Rights group warns of new ‘war’ in Colombia’s border zone

The void left by FARC is being filled by other smaller armed groups trying to gain control over drug trafficking routes. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 August 2019

Rights group warns of new ‘war’ in Colombia’s border zone

  • Colombia started facing new security challenges after the peace deal with the FARC guerrilla group in 2016
  • New armed groups moved to the area to fill the void FARC left

BOGOTA, Colombia: Human Rights Watch says illegal armed groups have forced 40,000 people to flee their homes as they fight for control of drug trafficking routes in Colombia’s Catatumbo region bordering Venezuela.
In a report being published Thursday, the watchdog details abuses committed against civilians by armed groups in the mountainous area. The situation reflects the security challenges that Colombia faces after the government signed a 2016 peace deal with the FARC guerrilla group, leaving a void that has been filled by smaller armed groups that have moved into Catatumbo and other remote areas.
The report says three groups are fighting over drug routes and coca plantations abandoned by FARC rebels in Catatumbo. It says the groups have expelled thousands from their homes, murdered community leaders and forcibly recruited children.


Khalilzad upbeat on chances for intra-Afghan peace talks

Updated 29 min 18 sec ago

Khalilzad upbeat on chances for intra-Afghan peace talks

  • Khalilzad said the US was trying to help resolve the prisoner issue

WASHINGTON: The US special envoy for Afghanistan sounded upbeat on Monday about the chances for peace talks starting between the Kabul government and the Taliban militant group but suggested further prisoner releases were needed first.
Speaking to reporters, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also sought to play down an independent UN experts report that ties between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remain close despite the Taliban’s pledge to cut such links.
Khalilzad, who helped broker a Feb. 29 US-Taliban troop withdrawal agreement, said the Afghan government has freed 2,400 to 2,500 Taliban prisoners since that pact was reached and the militant group has freed more than 400 government detainees in return.
“We are in a good place,” Khalilzad said, adding that levels of violence in Afghanistan have remained relatively low since May’s Eid Al-Fitr cease-fire. “We are optimistic that finally we’re moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Under the US-Taliban deal — to which the Afghan government was not a party — the United States committed to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan to 8,600 troops by mid-July and, conditions permitting, to zero by May 2021. US troop strength already is down to nearly 8,600, US and NATO officials said last week.
Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 government prisoners were to have been freed by March 10, when talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban were to have begun.
Khalilzad said the United States was trying to help resolve the prisoner issue and “we are hoping that violence will stay low. So with the release of prisoners, we can begin inter-Afghan negotiations.”