Showing posts tagged as "armed groups"

Showing posts tagged armed groups

3 Jul
ALERT: Libya’s Elections under Threat
Brussels   |   3 Jul 2012
With only days to go, Libya’s first national elections of the post-Qadhafi era are imperilled by armed protesters who, driven by a feeling of continued economic and political marginalisation, are threatening to disrupt the vote in the eastern part of the country. Rather than pretend that security surrounding the 7 July elections is under control, the authorities should engage in genuine dialogue with the protesters and address root causes of their complaints. The alternatives – calling off elections in all or parts of the east; resorting to force; or allowing violent intervention by other brigades – risk undermining an already fragile transition.
On 1 July, in a brazen show of force and direct challenge to central authorities, armed men ransacked election offices in several eastern cities, including Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 uprising. Since late May, they have massed armed vehicles and manned a roadblock at Wadi Ahmar, the symbolic border along the coastal road some 600km east of Tripoli that separates eastern from western Libya, preventing passage of government and military (and occasionally commercial) vehicles.
Their central grievance relates to what they consider the government’s ongoing neglect of the east and unwillingness to concede either greater political autonomy or enhanced financial contributions to a region that contains four fifths of the country’s natural resources. In the same spirit, they fault the government for making million-dollar deals with brigades from Zintan and Misrata, the two main western centres of armed groups. Like their countrymen in other parts of the nation, they distrust the National Transitional Council (NTC), the self-appointed interim legislative body, accusing it of lack of transparency. Although its chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, comes from there, they castigate him for “betraying Barqa” – the local term used to describe the eastern region. In short, they feel virtually as short-changed today as they did under the Qadhafi regime.
Those threatening to boycott the elections are undoubtedly a minority, although many in the east sympathise with their demands. Most crucially, Libyan authorities should not make the mistake of underestimating their ability to disrupt the political process. Comprised of two leading eastern tribes and the pro-federalist Barqa Council, the anti-election group now also includes disgruntled revolutionary forces gathering at Wadi Ahmar. Some of these are troops who defected from the nascent and weak national army (jaysh al-watani); others are armed groups that were previously under the defence ministry’s formal control. Most fought against Qadhafi during the uprising.
The central authorities would make a potentially grievous mistake by resorting to force against the armed groups, however provocative they have been; by the same token, they ought to do all in their power to prevent brigades or individuals angered by these events in the east from taking matters into their own hands. Far from prompting the protesters to back down, violence would exacerbate their resentment and, in the eyes of their constituents, boost the legitimacy of their struggle for greater autonomy.
What are needed now are meaningful negotiations. Quiet talks with Abdul Jalil have been going on through mediators acting on the protesters’ behalf. However, aside from the NTC chairman, the government, which is in charge of election security, also should be part of the discussions. The government took a positive step on 28 June by dispatching Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shaqur to Wadi Ahmar to listen to the protesters’ demands. But progress still is needed with regard to the negotiations’ content. Involving the UN Support Mission in Libya or some other neutral international body in the negotiations also might help avert open confrontation.
The armed groups’ chief demand centres around revision of the formula for National Assembly seats that would give the north west (Tripolitania) a far greater share. They want equality for the east (Cyrenaica). But this demand appears, from the government’s perspective, non-negotiable – if only because it would require freezing the elections in at least parts of the east. Moreover, the NTC is convinced it already has made a significant compromise by amending Article 30 of the Constitutional Declaration and establishing that all three regions would be equally represented in the 60-person committee charged with drafting the future constitution. On 28 June the NTC made another concession by stating that each regional block within the National Assembly would select its own twenty delegates. As an initial measure, the NTC and the government should provide greater visibility to these changes, announcing them publicly and directly to those who now threaten to disrupt the polls.
More broadly, the NTC, Deputy Prime Minister Abu Shaqur and eventual third-party mediators ought urgently to focus on the other five demands, which include:
transfer of the administrative district of Khalij al-Sidra (which stretches along the coast from Wadi Ahmar to Ras Lanuf) from the authority of Sirte, a former Qadhafi stronghold, to that of the eastern town of Ajdabiya;
instituting a mine-removal plan for Khalij al-Sidra;
reparations for war damages;
social development projects and greater job opportunities for local youth; and
medical treatment abroad for the war-injured from the east.
Such significant concessions, if implemented rapidly, could appease most protesters. With a weak central government, powerful, competing armed groups and strong regional feelings, Libya is experiencing a delicate transition. Depending on how the authorities address the most pressing immediate challenge, that transition could remain delicate – or become genuinely perilous.
Photo: REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

ALERT: Libya’s Elections under Threat

Brussels   |   3 Jul 2012

With only days to go, Libya’s first national elections of the post-Qadhafi era are imperilled by armed protesters who, driven by a feeling of continued economic and political marginalisation, are threatening to disrupt the vote in the eastern part of the country. Rather than pretend that security surrounding the 7 July elections is under control, the authorities should engage in genuine dialogue with the protesters and address root causes of their complaints. The alternatives – calling off elections in all or parts of the east; resorting to force; or allowing violent intervention by other brigades – risk undermining an already fragile transition.

On 1 July, in a brazen show of force and direct challenge to central authorities, armed men ransacked election offices in several eastern cities, including Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 uprising. Since late May, they have massed armed vehicles and manned a roadblock at Wadi Ahmar, the symbolic border along the coastal road some 600km east of Tripoli that separates eastern from western Libya, preventing passage of government and military (and occasionally commercial) vehicles.

Their central grievance relates to what they consider the government’s ongoing neglect of the east and unwillingness to concede either greater political autonomy or enhanced financial contributions to a region that contains four fifths of the country’s natural resources. In the same spirit, they fault the government for making million-dollar deals with brigades from Zintan and Misrata, the two main western centres of armed groups. Like their countrymen in other parts of the nation, they distrust the National Transitional Council (NTC), the self-appointed interim legislative body, accusing it of lack of transparency. Although its chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, comes from there, they castigate him for “betraying Barqa” – the local term used to describe the eastern region. In short, they feel virtually as short-changed today as they did under the Qadhafi regime.

Those threatening to boycott the elections are undoubtedly a minority, although many in the east sympathise with their demands. Most crucially, Libyan authorities should not make the mistake of underestimating their ability to disrupt the political process. Comprised of two leading eastern tribes and the pro-federalist Barqa Council, the anti-election group now also includes disgruntled revolutionary forces gathering at Wadi Ahmar. Some of these are troops who defected from the nascent and weak national army (jaysh al-watani); others are armed groups that were previously under the defence ministry’s formal control. Most fought against Qadhafi during the uprising.

The central authorities would make a potentially grievous mistake by resorting to force against the armed groups, however provocative they have been; by the same token, they ought to do all in their power to prevent brigades or individuals angered by these events in the east from taking matters into their own hands. Far from prompting the protesters to back down, violence would exacerbate their resentment and, in the eyes of their constituents, boost the legitimacy of their struggle for greater autonomy.

What are needed now are meaningful negotiations. Quiet talks with Abdul Jalil have been going on through mediators acting on the protesters’ behalf. However, aside from the NTC chairman, the government, which is in charge of election security, also should be part of the discussions. The government took a positive step on 28 June by dispatching Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shaqur to Wadi Ahmar to listen to the protesters’ demands. But progress still is needed with regard to the negotiations’ content. Involving the UN Support Mission in Libya or some other neutral international body in the negotiations also might help avert open confrontation.

The armed groups’ chief demand centres around revision of the formula for National Assembly seats that would give the north west (Tripolitania) a far greater share. They want equality for the east (Cyrenaica). But this demand appears, from the government’s perspective, non-negotiable – if only because it would require freezing the elections in at least parts of the east. Moreover, the NTC is convinced it already has made a significant compromise by amending Article 30 of the Constitutional Declaration and establishing that all three regions would be equally represented in the 60-person committee charged with drafting the future constitution. On 28 June the NTC made another concession by stating that each regional block within the National Assembly would select its own twenty delegates. As an initial measure, the NTC and the government should provide greater visibility to these changes, announcing them publicly and directly to those who now threaten to disrupt the polls.

More broadly, the NTC, Deputy Prime Minister Abu Shaqur and eventual third-party mediators ought urgently to focus on the other five demands, which include:

  • transfer of the administrative district of Khalij al-Sidra (which stretches along the coast from Wadi Ahmar to Ras Lanuf) from the authority of Sirte, a former Qadhafi stronghold, to that of the eastern town of Ajdabiya;
  • instituting a mine-removal plan for Khalij al-Sidra;
  • reparations for war damages;
  • social development projects and greater job opportunities for local youth; and
  • medical treatment abroad for the war-injured from the east.

Such significant concessions, if implemented rapidly, could appease most protesters. With a weak central government, powerful, competing armed groups and strong regional feelings, Libya is experiencing a delicate transition. Depending on how the authorities address the most pressing immediate challenge, that transition could remain delicate – or become genuinely perilous.

Photo: REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

28 Jun
Back-to-Back Coups Hand ECOWAS Huge Challenge | VOA
By Nancy Palus
DAKAR — This week’s deadly clashes between armed groups in northern Mali will likely put even more pressure on the regional bloc ECOWAS to deploy a military force it has been talking about for months.  Some Malians in the north are crying out for intervention, but experts question how effective West African forces could be against terrorist groups in the desert.  It is just one of the many challenges ECOWAS has faced after successive coups d’état in Mali and Guinea-Bissau earlier this year. 
The institution, with 15 member countries, is known by its acronym ECOWAS. Its full name is the Economic Community of West African States - a trading bloc, created in 1975.  But political crises in the region hampered economic integration, so ECOWAS has also had to turn its attention to conflict management and security.
Since its founding ECOWAS has drawn up a number of protocols, one of which establishes “zero tolerance” for the illegal takeover or maintenance of power.
FULL ARTICLE (VOA)
Photo: VOA

Back-to-Back Coups Hand ECOWAS Huge Challenge | VOA

By Nancy Palus

DAKAR — This week’s deadly clashes between armed groups in northern Mali will likely put even more pressure on the regional bloc ECOWAS to deploy a military force it has been talking about for months.  Some Malians in the north are crying out for intervention, but experts question how effective West African forces could be against terrorist groups in the desert.  It is just one of the many challenges ECOWAS has faced after successive coups d’état in Mali and Guinea-Bissau earlier this year. 

The institution, with 15 member countries, is known by its acronym ECOWAS. Its full name is the Economic Community of West African States - a trading bloc, created in 1975.  But political crises in the region hampered economic integration, so ECOWAS has also had to turn its attention to conflict management and security.

Since its founding ECOWAS has drawn up a number of protocols, one of which establishes “zero tolerance” for the illegal takeover or maintenance of power.

FULL ARTICLE (VOA)

Photo: VOA

22 Jun
DRC: Understanding armed group M23 | IRIN
JOHANNESBURG, 22 June 2012 (IRIN) - To the layman the emergence of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) armed group M23 might be seen as of little significance - just another band of gunmen controlling a few square kilometres of turf in a country the size of western Europe. 
“This [M23] is a new configuration and a serious development. More than 200,000 people have been displaced since April [because of M23],” Rupert Colville, a Geneva-based spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Human Rights, told IRIN. 
FULL ARTICLE (IRIN)
Photo: Samuel Okiror/IRIN

DRC: Understanding armed group M23 | IRIN

JOHANNESBURG, 22 June 2012 (IRIN) - To the layman the emergence of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) armed group M23 might be seen as of little significance - just another band of gunmen controlling a few square kilometres of turf in a country the size of western Europe. 

“This [M23] is a new configuration and a serious development. More than 200,000 people have been displaced since April [because of M23],” Rupert Colville, a Geneva-based spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Human Rights, told IRIN. 

FULL ARTICLE (IRIN)

Photo: Samuel Okiror/IRIN

12 Jun
Pijarbey’s Story – Or Why it is so Hard to End Violence in Colombia? | International Crisis Group 
8 June 2012 | by Christian Voelkel 
When Martin Farfán was captured in December 2009, hopes were high that violence would fall in one of Colombia’s most dangerous regions. By that time, Farfán, alias “Pijarbey”, was second-in-command of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC), a 700-strong illegal armed group that controlled drug trafficking and sowed terror in the country’s vast Eastern Plains.
Less than four years later, hopes have been dashed that his arrest would fundamentally change anything. It is now clear that the only way for the government to stop the violence is to complement its increasing law enforcement capacities with better policies to dismantle groups such as ERPAC, prevent their rearmament and protect victims.
When Pijarbey was arrested, all seemed to go according to plan, however. His detention drew widespread media attention, and police basked in their success, hailing the operation as one of the most important blows to organised crime in Colombia’s history. Pijarbey’s capture also marked the beginning of ERPAC’s decline. A year later, in December 2010, police killed Cuchillo (“Knife”), ERPAC´s notorious leader who had eluded authorities several times before, largely thanks to his contacts with security forces. In the same operation, police also captured Loco Harold, the group’s second-in-command at that time.
Without this trio, ERPAC was weakened. Caracho, who succeeded Cuchillo, could not maintain the group’s cohesion. He also quickly lost the backing of Loco Barrera, Colombia´s most powerful drug-trafficker, after ERPAC failed to protect a massive cocaine laboratory belonging to Barrera. The triumph for security forces seemed complete in December 2011 when Caracho turned himself in, facing the choice between being captured or killed. More than 270 fighters followed his example and laid down their arms. ERPAC’s demise seemed closer than ever.
Caracho’s surrender appeared to vindicate the government’s strategy in the fight against armed groups. ERPAC is one of five illegal armed groups that surged after right-wing paramilitaries demobilised in 2006. Since then they have become one of Colombia’s top security challenges. The groups, which the government insists are ordinary criminal groups , or “Bacrim” by their Spanish acronym – play a major role in the illicit drug economy and other organised criminal activities. But reflecting their paramilitary legacy, they have also been responsible for mass displacements, sexual violence and child recruitment, and benefit from close ties to regional and local elites as well as the security forces. President Juan Manuel Santos took tougher action, but until the ERPAC surrender, there was little evidence that the clampdown would truly weaken the groups.
But the surrender did not prove to be the last nail in ERPAC’s coffin, as the government had hoped. ERPAC members who did not turn themselves in simply re-organised in two competing armed groups. With a combined strength of 600 fighters, more than double the number of those who surrendered, these factions show no sign of cracking any time soon. One of these groups is led reportedly by somebody with an intimate knowledge of the Eastern Plains: Pijarbey. By coincidence, he was released in January 2012, just a month after Caracho had surrendered. Despite his importance and paramilitary past, he was sentenced to just four years for conspiracy and good behaviour in prison saw him released after three years. And when that day came, Pijarbey lost no time in returning to the Eastern Plains to claim back his place. A new cycle of violence had begun.
It is not hard to see what fuels ERPAC’s criminal activity. Despite a decade of aggressive counter drug-policies, the Eastern Plains remain important drug-cultivation and trafficking zones, not least because of the access to neighboring Venezuela. Armed groups also control mining projects and they displace people to claim land needed for extensive agro-industrial projects. At the same time, there is no shortage of recruits from a region which has little in the way of a formal economy but a long tradition of armed groups. The region is also a stronghold of FARC guerrillas.
Tackling these problems will take years. The state must beef up its civilian engagement, rather than just its military presence. Education and vocational training will help foster a viable local economy and discourage would-be recruits. Local politics and security forces must also be rigorously purged of their links to drug-traffickers and illegal armed groups.
But equally important, the government must implement a credible policy for dismantling groups like ERPAC and reintegrating fighters into civilian life. This should start with ending impunity. More often than not, leaders such as Pijarbey get away with short prison terms, while aggravated crimes often go unpunished. Rank and file members not responsible for serious crimes could also be encouraged to help dismantle corrupt networks through lighter sentencing.
The executive must also assume greater leadership instead of outsourcing responsibility for surrendering members to the judiciary. The government must ensure that victims of ERPAC and similar groups are compensated on an equal footing with victims of guerrilla groups and demobilised paramilitaries. It should also do more to stop captured fighters rearming once they leave prison. This should include giving rank-and-file members access to basic benefits through programmes run by presidency´s reintegration agency ACR, provided they meet strict criteria of eligibility.
Over the next few months, police could very well recapture Pijarbey. But without a better approach to dismantling the groups and their corrupt support networks, communities in the Eastern Plains will remain prey to the violence that has plagued the region for more than 60 years. And the next chapter in the Pijarbey story will just be a matter of time.
READ ARTICLE (Crisis Group)
Photo: luismonarrez73/YouTube

Pijarbey’s Story – Or Why it is so Hard to End Violence in Colombia? | International Crisis Group 

8 June 2012 | by Christian Voelkel 

When Martin Farfán was captured in December 2009, hopes were high that violence would fall in one of Colombia’s most dangerous regions. By that time, Farfán, alias “Pijarbey”, was second-in-command of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC), a 700-strong illegal armed group that controlled drug trafficking and sowed terror in the country’s vast Eastern Plains.

Less than four years later, hopes have been dashed that his arrest would fundamentally change anything. It is now clear that the only way for the government to stop the violence is to complement its increasing law enforcement capacities with better policies to dismantle groups such as ERPAC, prevent their rearmament and protect victims.

When Pijarbey was arrested, all seemed to go according to plan, however. His detention drew widespread media attention, and police basked in their success, hailing the operation as one of the most important blows to organised crime in Colombia’s history. Pijarbey’s capture also marked the beginning of ERPAC’s decline. A year later, in December 2010, police killed Cuchillo (“Knife”), ERPAC´s notorious leader who had eluded authorities several times before, largely thanks to his contacts with security forces. In the same operation, police also captured Loco Harold, the group’s second-in-command at that time.

Without this trio, ERPAC was weakened. Caracho, who succeeded Cuchillo, could not maintain the group’s cohesion. He also quickly lost the backing of Loco Barrera, Colombia´s most powerful drug-trafficker, after ERPAC failed to protect a massive cocaine laboratory belonging to Barrera. The triumph for security forces seemed complete in December 2011 when Caracho turned himself in, facing the choice between being captured or killed. More than 270 fighters followed his example and laid down their arms. ERPAC’s demise seemed closer than ever.

Caracho’s surrender appeared to vindicate the government’s strategy in the fight against armed groups. ERPAC is one of five illegal armed groups that surged after right-wing paramilitaries demobilised in 2006. Since then they have become one of Colombia’s top security challenges. The groups, which the government insists are ordinary criminal groups , or “Bacrim” by their Spanish acronym – play a major role in the illicit drug economy and other organised criminal activities. But reflecting their paramilitary legacy, they have also been responsible for mass displacements, sexual violence and child recruitment, and benefit from close ties to regional and local elites as well as the security forces. President Juan Manuel Santos took tougher action, but until the ERPAC surrender, there was little evidence that the clampdown would truly weaken the groups.

But the surrender did not prove to be the last nail in ERPAC’s coffin, as the government had hoped. ERPAC members who did not turn themselves in simply re-organised in two competing armed groups. With a combined strength of 600 fighters, more than double the number of those who surrendered, these factions show no sign of cracking any time soon. One of these groups is led reportedly by somebody with an intimate knowledge of the Eastern Plains: Pijarbey. By coincidence, he was released in January 2012, just a month after Caracho had surrendered. Despite his importance and paramilitary past, he was sentenced to just four years for conspiracy and good behaviour in prison saw him released after three years. And when that day came, Pijarbey lost no time in returning to the Eastern Plains to claim back his place. A new cycle of violence had begun.

It is not hard to see what fuels ERPAC’s criminal activity. Despite a decade of aggressive counter drug-policies, the Eastern Plains remain important drug-cultivation and trafficking zones, not least because of the access to neighboring Venezuela. Armed groups also control mining projects and they displace people to claim land needed for extensive agro-industrial projects. At the same time, there is no shortage of recruits from a region which has little in the way of a formal economy but a long tradition of armed groups. The region is also a stronghold of FARC guerrillas.

Tackling these problems will take years. The state must beef up its civilian engagement, rather than just its military presence. Education and vocational training will help foster a viable local economy and discourage would-be recruits. Local politics and security forces must also be rigorously purged of their links to drug-traffickers and illegal armed groups.

But equally important, the government must implement a credible policy for dismantling groups like ERPAC and reintegrating fighters into civilian life. This should start with ending impunity. More often than not, leaders such as Pijarbey get away with short prison terms, while aggravated crimes often go unpunished. Rank and file members not responsible for serious crimes could also be encouraged to help dismantle corrupt networks through lighter sentencing.

The executive must also assume greater leadership instead of outsourcing responsibility for surrendering members to the judiciary. The government must ensure that victims of ERPAC and similar groups are compensated on an equal footing with victims of guerrilla groups and demobilised paramilitaries. It should also do more to stop captured fighters rearming once they leave prison. This should include giving rank-and-file members access to basic benefits through programmes run by presidency´s reintegration agency ACR, provided they meet strict criteria of eligibility.

Over the next few months, police could very well recapture Pijarbey. But without a better approach to dismantling the groups and their corrupt support networks, communities in the Eastern Plains will remain prey to the violence that has plagued the region for more than 60 years. And the next chapter in the Pijarbey story will just be a matter of time.

READ ARTICLE (Crisis Group)

Photo: luismonarrez73/YouTube

8 Jun
Dismantling Colombia’s New Illegal Armed Groups: Lessons from a Surrender
Bogotá/Brussels  |   8 Jun 2012
The surrender of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) exposed justice system and government strategy shortcomings that unless corrected will hamper efforts to combat groups which are now top security challenges.
“Dismantling Colombia’s New Illegal Armed Groups: Lessons from a Surrender”, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines the first-ever surrender, at the end of last year, by one of these NIAGs and paramilitary successors and analyses the policy flaws that it exposed.  Only a fraction of the group took part; leaders may be getting away with short prison sentences; underlying criminal structures, including corrupt networks that reach into the political and business worlds, will likely remain untouched; and the impact on conflict dynamics has been limited.
“On the ground, the surrender has achieved little else than stoking confrontations between competing groups that want to take over what ERPAC has lost”, says Christian Voelkel, Crisis Group’s Colombia Analyst. “It has started a new cycle of violence in ERPAC’s eastern plains strongholds, rather than laying the basis for security”.
ERPAC exercised strict control in its operational area and was responsible for the killing of community leaders, displacements, child recruitment and sexual violence. But it kept its hold also thanks to substantial links to regional and local elites, as well as parts of the security forces. Considering such groups criminal organisations (BACRIMs in the Spanish acronym) rather than parts of the armed internal conflict, the government has long insisted that fighters cannot benefit from transitional justice or reintegration measures and that their only option is criminal prosecution. But the judicial system is ill-equipped to handle a collective surrender that must balance the competing needs of encouraging NIAG members to give up arms while guaranteeing victims’ rights to justice, truth and reparation.
The government needs to correct these shortcomings by implementing an explicit surrender policy.  Boosting the capacities of prosecuting institutions should be the core of the policy, but it also needs to assume more leadership, not put all responsibility on the judicial system. It should ensure that NIAG victims have access to the benefits extended to victims of the guerrillas and the paramilitaries and also make basic reintegration benefits available to former fighters in an effort to prevent them from resuming their old ways.
“Dismantling the NIAGs and doing so while avoiding impunity, requires closing down also their corrupt networks, guaranteeing victims’ rights and preventing rearmament, in addition to punishing individual crimes”, says Silke Pfeiffer, Crisis Group’s Colombia/Andes Project Director. “A credible commitment from the government that it is serious about doing so – that it is taking a more encompassing approach to their surrenders – could also become a crucial part of wider guarantees ahead of possible peace talks with the guerrillas”.
FULL REPORT 

Dismantling Colombia’s New Illegal Armed Groups: Lessons from a Surrender

Bogotá/Brussels  |   8 Jun 2012

The surrender of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) exposed justice system and government strategy shortcomings that unless corrected will hamper efforts to combat groups which are now top security challenges.

Dismantling Colombia’s New Illegal Armed Groups: Lessons from a Surrender”, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines the first-ever surrender, at the end of last year, by one of these NIAGs and paramilitary successors and analyses the policy flaws that it exposed.  Only a fraction of the group took part; leaders may be getting away with short prison sentences; underlying criminal structures, including corrupt networks that reach into the political and business worlds, will likely remain untouched; and the impact on conflict dynamics has been limited.

“On the ground, the surrender has achieved little else than stoking confrontations between competing groups that want to take over what ERPAC has lost”, says Christian Voelkel, Crisis Group’s Colombia Analyst. “It has started a new cycle of violence in ERPAC’s eastern plains strongholds, rather than laying the basis for security”.

ERPAC exercised strict control in its operational area and was responsible for the killing of community leaders, displacements, child recruitment and sexual violence. But it kept its hold also thanks to substantial links to regional and local elites, as well as parts of the security forces. Considering such groups criminal organisations (BACRIMs in the Spanish acronym) rather than parts of the armed internal conflict, the government has long insisted that fighters cannot benefit from transitional justice or reintegration measures and that their only option is criminal prosecution. But the judicial system is ill-equipped to handle a collective surrender that must balance the competing needs of encouraging NIAG members to give up arms while guaranteeing victims’ rights to justice, truth and reparation.

The government needs to correct these shortcomings by implementing an explicit surrender policy.  Boosting the capacities of prosecuting institutions should be the core of the policy, but it also needs to assume more leadership, not put all responsibility on the judicial system. It should ensure that NIAG victims have access to the benefits extended to victims of the guerrillas and the paramilitaries and also make basic reintegration benefits available to former fighters in an effort to prevent them from resuming their old ways.

“Dismantling the NIAGs and doing so while avoiding impunity, requires closing down also their corrupt networks, guaranteeing victims’ rights and preventing rearmament, in addition to punishing individual crimes”, says Silke Pfeiffer, Crisis Group’s Colombia/Andes Project Director. “A credible commitment from the government that it is serious about doing so – that it is taking a more encompassing approach to their surrenders – could also become a crucial part of wider guarantees ahead of possible peace talks with the guerrillas”.

FULL REPORT