Wars over control over the cultivation of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, is the biggest threat to benefits of a pending peace deal with the FARC and the government, the United Nations said Monday.
According to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, the FARC’s eventual demobilization and disarmament could create a power vacuum in the criminal underworld.
Pending power vacuum
The guerrillas’ promised abandonment of illegal mining, to a lesser extent, could create a similar vacuum that is already vied for by other illegal armed group, mainly the neo-paramilitary “Urabeños,” or Auto-Defensas Gaitanistas de Colombia as they call themselves.
But with the country’s second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, struggling to agree to formal peace talks, this group may also pose a major threat and could move into allied FARC territory to take over guerrilla rackets.
Post conflict violence already underway
Violent clashes between guerrillas and paramilitary successor groups have already occurred inside FARC strongholds where they tax coca cultivators and drug traffickers.
These clashes have already displaced many thousands over the past half year along the Pacific coast and in the north of the Antioquia province, both FARC strongholds disputed by the Urabeños.
“In the past two months alone, more than 6,000 people have fled the fighting” in west Colombia, said the UNHCR, the agency monitoring displacement Monday.
“The magnitude of the situation has overwhelmed the local authorities’ ability to respond to basic needs, including food, healthcare, shelter and psychological support,” the UNHCR said in a press statement.
According to Al Hussein, his office has also witnessed an increase in human rights violations in areas most likely to be disputed, mainly in the north, west and southwest of the country.
Faced with the violence, the “UNHCR today urgently calls on all parties to the conflict to guarantee the safety of the civilian population,” UNHCR spokesman Williem Spindler said.
Post conflict risk areas
State consolidation of territory
To guarantee civilians’ safety, Spindler called on the army to refrain “from establishing military bases in or near civilian settlements and carrying out bombing raids in these areas. It is also essential to address the structural causes of displacement, including control over territory and resources.”
Once the FARC demobilizes and moves out of the territories currently under their control, and that’s a lot, the military will have to swiftly move in to these territories and establish state authority before the Urabeños, the ELN or any other of Colombia’s illegal armed groups will.
The military began a major military campaign against the Urabeños early last year, but without notable success, leaving the safety of millions of rural Colombians at stake.