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Colombia, ELN guerrillas to start new peace talks Monday in Caracas

Foto: Yuri Cortez / AFP

| By AFP |

Colombia’s government and the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group will resume peace talks on Monday after a nearly four-year hiatus, the parties announced.

The resumption of negotiations “will be next Monday, November 21, in the afternoon in the city of Caracas,” read a statement posted to Twitter Friday and signed by the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, and ELN peace delegation member Pablo Beltran.

Colombia has suffered more than half a century of armed conflict between the state and various groups of left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers.

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The ELN is the last recognized rebel group operating in Colombia, although FARC dissidents who refused to sign the 2016 peace deal remain active.

Negotiations with ELN, started in 2016, were interrupted three years later by conservative president Ivan Duque following a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota that left 22 people dead.

President Gustavo Petro, who in August became Colombia’s first leftist leader, has vowed to take a less bellicose approach than his predecessors to seeking an end to the violence.

“We are aware of the deep desire of the Colombian people… to move forward through a peace process and democracy building,” the joint statement read. 

As a good-will gesture, the guerrillas on Wednesday released two soldiers who had been captured near Venezuela earlier this month.  

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While the two sides have not declared a ceasefire, they agreed in October to resume talks. The new round has Venezuela, Cuba and Norway acting as guarantors.

The initial, 2016 dialogue with the ELN kicked off under ex-president Juan Manuel Santos, who signed a peace treaty with the larger Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, which subsequently laid down weapons and created a political party.

The ELN’s peace delegation spent four years based in Cuba, as they had been barred from returning to Colombia.

They left Cuba for Venezuela in October to begin the new talks promised by Petro, himself a former urban guerrilla.

The government and ELN have not yet released full lists of negotiators for the talks beginning Monday.

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Colombia and Venezuela recently resumed relations after a 2019 rupture caused by Duque’s refusal to recognize President Nicolas Maduro’s reelection the year before in a vote widely condemned as a sham by the international community.

Duque had accused Venezuela’s socialist leader of harboring rebels across the border.

But since Petro came to power, he has reestablished diplomatic ties with Caracas, allowing the Maduro government to help facilitate peace talks with the ELN.

Founded in 1964, the ELN counts around 2,500 members, about 700 more than it did when negotiations were broken off.

It is mostly active in the Pacific region and along the 2,200-kilometer (1,367-mile) border with Venezuela.

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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