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Total Peace: Colombia Explores Options for Dialogue With Paramilitary Group Operating in Magdalena


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Government explores dialogue options with Magdalena paramilitary group – Credit: Alejandro Bayer / CC BY-SA 2.0

In the framework of the Total Peace initiative, the Colombian government is exploring dialogue options with the paramilitary group called Autodefensas Conquistadoras de Sierra Nevada (ACSN), which operates in the Magdalena department. This illegal armed group has been under a ceasefire since January 2023, as per an agreement with the Colombian government, but a formal negotiation table with an agreed-upon agenda has not been established thus far.

If this new dialogue table were to materialize, it would be the third one initiated by Colombia, following talks with the ELN and the dissident group of the former FARC, the Central High Command of the FARC (EMC), which only recently began.

Exploratory Phase

According to statements from the political commander of the ACSN, initial contacts with the government began in the second half of 2022, when President Petro was already in office. It was through Juan Fernando Petro, the president’s brother, that the exploratory discussions leading to the ceasefire agreement began.

So far, what is known about the actual prospects of starting formal talks is that the illegal armed group is not satisfied with the disposition of state public entities. Alias Camilo, speaking to Blu Radio, stated that they believe the government has not shown significant interest in pursuing a formal peace process.

“There hasn’t been much interest from the national government compared to what’s being done with other groups. All units of the Autodefensas Conquistadoras de la Sierra are still held in a first-degree encampment, hopeful for a positive response to advance in peace matters with the national government. The Colombian state has lacked commitment in advancing peace issues. We lack the most important elements: the extension of the bilateral ceasefire and the formal installation of the negotiation table,” emphasized the spokesperson of the armed group.

Total Peace Colombia dialogue
President Gustavo Petro with his brother, Juan Fernando – Credito: @JuanFPetro / X

Fiscal General Barbosa, a Hurdle

Nevertheless, the ACSN spokesperson maintains that the “main obstacle” to establishing formal dialogue is the current Attorney General of the country, Francisco Barbosa. According to sources from the armed group, the Attorney General has not lifted the arrest warrants against the members of this criminal organization, making it difficult to extend the ceasefire.

It is worth noting that Attorney General Barbosa has had political disputes with President Gustavo Petro, and his term as a public official concludes in February 2024.

“It must be reiterated that there has been no willingness for peace from Mr. Fiscal Francisco Barbosa to suspend arrest warrants and to proceed with the installation of the negotiation table, which is what we want. Most importantly, the automatic extension of the bilateral ceasefire,” added the ACSN representative.

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Prosecutor Barbosa is accused by the armed group of torpedoing the agreement – Credit: Kybonilla / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Colombia One

Future Dialogue Table in the Region

Finally, the spokesperson for the armed group has conveyed their organization’s desire that, if a dialogue table is to be established with the state, it should be located in the Magdalena department, the region where the group operates.

To achieve this, it would be essential to negotiate a bilateral ceasefire between the ACSN and the Clan del Golfo, another paramilitary group operating in the region. Currently, hostilities between the two persist, further complicating the start of dialogue with the state.

For the Colombian government, it is important to negotiate a peace agreement based on international humanitarian law. This message has been conveyed by Danilo Rueda, the High Commissioner for Peace, to the illegal group, and the results of a legal analysis regarding its feasibility are awaited.

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