At least 13 activists who have been promoting peace with leftist FARC rebels have been assassinated in Colombia since the guerrillas and the government announced a ceasefire three weeks ago, the country’s human rights office said.
The assassinations reportedly took place near sites where the FARC is set to demobilize after a peace deal with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, scheduled to be signed on September 26, according to electoral observers.
Consequently, locals are terrified about the spike in political violence.
The increase in killings and death threats was confirmed by independent electoral observers.
The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE), said that so far this year 22 activists and community leaders have been killed and another 45 have received death threats.
“What is concerning is that in the majority of cases they were killed presumably for reasons related to the promotion of ‘Yes’,” electoral observation NGO MOE said in their first report on irregularities leading up to the vote.
The “No” campaign is led by former President Alvaro Uribe, whose family has had proven ties to paramilitary groups similar to the ones suspected of carrying out the recent killings.
Uribe’s brother is currently in jail awaiting trial for allegedly leading a paramilitary group in the early 1990s.
While the former president has been publicly urging peaceful opposition to the government and its peace deal with the FARC, publicly opposing Uribe has proven to be a dangerous political activity.
A 22-year-old man from the Pacific port city of Buenaventura was forced to flee his hometown and receive special protection in the capital Bogota after he challenged Uribe at a meeting in which the former president was promoting a “No” vote.
While the “Yes” campaign, led by Santos, has excelled in making exaggerated claims about the benefits of a peace deal with the FARC, Uribe’s “No” campaign has been marred by disinformation and, as is becoming apparent, the coincidental threatening and killing of political opponents.
Colombia will take to the polls on October 2, six days after Santos and FARC leader “Timochenko” sign peace.
Multiple pollsters have indicated that the “Yes” vote in most likely to win, but these same pollsters have proven to be hardly reliable in past electoral cycles.