Law in Colombia Prevents Demilitarizing Areas in Order to Negotiate with Irregular Fighters
By Dialogo December 27, 2010
On 21 December, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos signed a law, approved by the Congress, that prevents the government from demilitarizing areas of the country in order to negotiate with irregular armed groups, the minister of the interior and justice, Germán Vargas, announced.
“With the enactment of Law 1421, which extends the Public Order Act, clearance areas or areas of reduced tension are prohibited and no longer a possibility anywhere in the national territory,” Vargas told reporters.
Nevertheless, the minister explained that the law does not close the door to the possibility of the government initiating peace talks at any time with groups acting outside the law and of a political nature.
Making use of a provision of this law – prior to the reformed version signed by Santos -, conservative former president Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) ordered the demilitarization of a vast area of the department of Caquetá (in southern Colombia) in order to engage in a peace process with the FARC, a Marxist guerrilla group.
The failed talks with the government were held in this area, which was demilitarized between October 1998 and February 2002 and remained under the control of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during this period.
The FARC is the chief leftist guerrilla group in the country, having fought against the Colombian state for forty-six years, and currently has between 7,000 and 11,000 fighters, according to official and NGO estimates, respectively.
The same legal provision was used by right-wing former president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) to establish a ‘special area’ in the department of Córdoba (in northern Colombia) and carry out the process of demobilizing around 32,000 members of the United Self-Defense Units of Colombia (AUC, an extreme right-wing armed group).
Minister Vargas specified that with the enactment of the reformed law, now, “in the event of possible future peace talks, clearance areas or areas of reduced tension are prohibited and no longer a possibility anywhere in the national territory.”
The law also revives the presidential power of issuing individual and collective pardons to members of illegal armed groups who wish to leave those organizations, but establishes that pardons cannot be granted to those who have committed crimes against humanity, Vargas indicated.