UN: Optimism about new Colombian leader but concerns about assassinations

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The UN special envoy for Colombia said on Thursday that “there are good reasons for optimism” about the country’s new left-leaning government, but warned that violence against ex-combatants remains a major obstacle to consolidating peace .

Carlos Ruiz Massieu told the UN Security Council that four ex-combatants were killed in the last two weeks alone, bringing the total number of ex-combatant killings to 331 since a peace deal was signed between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces in 2016 in Colombia .

The deal ended more than 50 years of war in Colombia that killed over 220,000 and displaced nearly 6 million people, but it was not backed by either left- or right-wing elements in the South American country.

Ruiz stressed that a priority for any peace deal “must be to protect the lives of those who have laid down their arms in good faith, with assurances that they would be protected”.

“Illegal armed actors continue to target local leaders in conflict zones characterized by poverty, an illegal economy and limited state presence,” he said. “Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities are among those most affected by violence and insecurity.”

He also pointed to recent worrying information about “the alleged misuse of significant resources from hydrocarbon royalties” to be used for development projects in rural areas where the war had a major impact. He called for transparency and investigations into all possible acts of corruption.

Ruiz said the new government of President-elect Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla fighter due to be sworn in on August 7, “has a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to accelerate the implementation of the peace deal.”

Petro narrowly won a runoff in June, defeating a multimillionaire political maverick and ushering in a new political era for Colombia by becoming the country’s first leftist to be elected to the presidency.

Ruiz noted that Petro has called for national unity, expressed his intention to deepen implementation of the peace deal, and pushed for negotiated solutions with the remaining illegal armed groups to achieve what he calls “total peace.”

The UN envoy said Petro “strongly reaffirmed that peace would be a cornerstone of his government” when they met two weeks ago, and the President-elect said “he counts on the support of the United Nations”.

Ruiz said he also met with vice president-elect Francia Marquez, the first African American woman to hold the position in Colombia. She reiterated “that peace with a territorial and ethnic approach will occupy a prominent place on the government’s agenda,” Ruiz said

“There are good reasons for optimism,” said the UN envoy, “and I believe the United Nations and the international community should do everything to support them.”

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