UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Colombia's foreign minister on Wednesday urged leaders of the rebel group that signed a peace agreement with the government and left camps for ex-guerrillas to return "and not get lost, once again, on the path of violence and illegality."
Carlos Holmes Trujillo told the U.N. Security Council that "there is no excuse for ex-combatants to betray their commitment" to the historic 2016 cease-fire agreement that ended more than half a century of conflict.
He warned that those who "betray" the agreement "will receive the full weight of the law" and lose all benefits under the peace deal.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the council late last month that several rebel commanders left camps in Colombia's southeast where about 1,500 former combatants are undergoing training to reintegrate into society, some citing concerns "about their physical and legal security."
"Regardless of their motivations, this development has underlined the continued fragility of the peace process, owing in particular to the persistence of violence in the zones of conflict linked mainly to criminal groups," Guterres said.
He said some criminal groups include members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, who are "commonly referred to as 'dissidents' who have abandoned the peace process."
On Aug. 31, Colombia's lead prosecutor said two former FARC commanders who helped negotiate the 2016 peace deal — Luciano Marin, who is more commonly known as Ivan Marquez, and Henry Castellanos — abandoned their camps and their whereabouts were unknown.
Guterres stressed again that the process of reintegrating former rebels "is facing daunting challenges," citing weak or absent state institutions, the impact of "illegal economies," and relentless efforts by armed groups to lure ex-FARC members into their ranks.
Jean Arnault, the U.N. envoy for Colombia, told the Security Council Wednesday that the vast majority of former FARC fighters in the process of reintegration "still have no clear economic prospect beyond the monthly stipend that is to end by August of next year."
He said the government's newly resumed National Council on Reintegration must learn lessons from the failures of the council under the previous government. Those include the need to connect reintegration "much more directly" to local development, empower local authorities, and forge links to the private sector, universities and others willing and able to assist in reintegration, he said.
In addition to accelerating economic reintegration, Arnault said "the sense of legal uncertainty that remains pervasive" among former FARC members remains "a heightened subject of concern."
Arnault also cited the issue of physical security for FARC members, saying 74 ex-combatants have been killed outside the government security umbrella since the peace deal was signed.
"It is imperative" that measures be taken to address security risks, he said, noting that police have started to provide former FARC members with training in self-protection and the government and U.N. have increased monitoring of the security situation.
Arnault also said it is unfortunate that "the tragic killing of social leaders continues," citing the killing over the weekend of the coordinator of a coca crop substitution committee and his two sons in the department of Cauca.
"That this leader was promoting a government-sponsored program that is part of the peace agreement illustrates the brazenness of the killers and the pressing need to mobilize state institutions for the prevention and prosecution of these crimes," he said.
Foreign Minister Holmes said the government of new President Ivan Duque will adopt a new approach to economic reintegration so that it can "meet the expectations of those demobilized of becoming economic actors that contribute to the development of their communities."
He said the unprecedented growth in illicit crop production in recent years, including coca, not only threatens implementation of the peace deal but the security of Colombians and the integrity of government institutions. He said that growth is also "behind a significant number of attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders that have taken place in recent years."
Several former rebel leaders, including chief peace negotiator Ivan Marquez, have gone missing and have accused the Colombian government of abandoning its obligations under the 2016 peace deal.
Marquez is under investigation in the U.S. for allegedly negotiating cocaine sales to Mexican cartels after the accord was signed. His nephew was arrested on a U.S. warrant and is cooperating with prosecutors in New York in a case against another former rebel negotiator.
Other FARC leaders, including former top commander Rodrigo Londono, the head of their fledgling political party, have been less hostile to the government and have urged Marquez and others to stick to their commitments.
Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report from Bogota, Colombia.