The recent detention of a group of Colombian soldiers by local inhabitants acting under orders by local armed groups in the town of Argelia, in the Cauca department, brings to light a dramatic reality; civilians have to choose between breaking the law as instruments of outlawed armed groups or being forced to leave their homes.
Although in the latest incident the soldiers were released a few hours after their abduction, the subsequent militarization of the territory by the public forces prompted the guerrilla of the Central General Staff of the FARC (EMC) to walk away from the peace table that had been in progress for just three weeks with the government.
The mayor of Argelia, Jonathan Patiño, where the events occurred, has stated to W Radio that the inhabitants of the municipality who participated in the uprising against the soldiers were forced by the EMC, under the threat of being expelled from the area.
Use of Civilians in Uprisings
The current practice of this illegal armed group in the Cauca region, then, is the use of civilians to harass the public force. The soldiers who were detained for a few hours on Sunday were carrying out de-mining tasks when they were surprised by a mob of civilians who forced them to remain detained.
Behind this action, however, lies the Carlos Patiño structure, a guerrilla unit that is part of the EMC, the dissidence of the now-defunct FARC commanded by alias Iván Mordisco.
“It is not so easy to return there, there is no public force at the moment in the area. It is impossible to immediately regain control because it was the civilian population themselves who were forced to drive them out,” said the mayor of Argelia.
Mayor Patiño pointed out that the inhabitants of the rural area of El Plateado, which is part of the municipality of Argelia, acted under threat of being expelled from their homes and farms if they did not obey the guerrilla orders. It should be remembered that this illegal armed organization has maintained a bilateral ceasefire with the state since October 16. All this, in the context of the peace negotiations that were installed with the government of President Petro and that yesterday were unilaterally suspended.
Nevertheless, he emphasized that the actions of the civilians were always peaceful, in order to “avoid a tragedy” and that the soldiers were released, a few hours later, in perfect health.
“This uprising was led by the most rural people, it was evident that they were being forced. There were individuals involved in instigating and motivating the uprising,” concluded the mayor of Argelia.
What Happens to Colombia’s Peace Talks Now?
The instrumentalization of civilians by outlawed armed groups for their criminal practices is not new in Colombia, but it is new that this occurs in a context of peace negotiations with the state.
Moreover, the dialogue table has been unilaterally suspended by the decision of the guerrilla, not the state, in what looks like a show of strength by the illegal organization.
These events, in a complex weekend for peace in the country, provide ammunition to the Colombian opposition, which has been very critical from the beginning of President Petro’s invitation to negotiate with the various illegal armed groups. Total Peace, for now, has managed to establish two negotiation tables: one with the National Liberation Army and the other, with the EMC. The latter is experiencing its most critical moment due to the practice of kidnapping.
Colombia’s public demands an explanation for what happened in Cauca, recalling that the detention of the soldiers occurred amidst a bilateral ceasefire that the EMC and the state signed just three weeks ago and which extends until mid-January 2024.