UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Colombia called Thursday for greater efforts to integrate former combatants who are struggling with access to land and housing and finding sustainable incomes and security.
Carlos Ruiz Massieu told the U.N. Security Council that in discussions with former combatants it became clear that in the early years following the 2016 peace agreement, the collective effort to boost reintegration “had been crucial to instill hope among thousands of men and women who until this day continue to bet on peace.”
He said the ex-combatants remain determined to continue productive activities and be active members of their local communities including participating in local politics and decision-making. He noted that this is called for in the peace agreement.
Nevertheless, Ruiz quoted one female leader of the former combatants in the country’s central Meta region as saying many efforts and investments may be in jeopardy.
To protect hard-fought gains, the U.N. envoy said she urged “decisive action on land, housing, sustainable income generation and security.”
“Otherwise, she fears former combatants will continue to be forced to relocate in search for better opportunities and/or to preserve their lives,” Ruiz said.
Before the peace deal was signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia movement, known as the FARC, more than 50 years of war in Colombia caused over 220,000 deaths and displaced nearly 6 million people. An amnesty law was adopted covering most offenses committed by FARC fighters.
Five years into implementing the peace agreement, Ruiz said, “there is broad consensus on the essential role that land plays to anchor the reintegration process, especially with regards to housing and productive initiatives.”
He said there is anxiety among former combatants who are on rented land about making further investments and cost overruns.
Ruiz urged the government to redouble efforts to acquire land for ex-combatants across the country so their endeavors “can literally take roots.”
“However fruitful the early stages may have been, the long-term success of initial investments is contingent upon the agreement’s promise of reshaping rural Colombia by establishing sustainable development opportunities and state services and institutions for communities whose expectations remain unfulfilled,” he said.
In addition, he said, solving the problem of illicit drugs “will be instrumental.”
Ruiz said the United Nation is seriously concerned at the grave security situation in the very areas that are priorities under the peace agreement.
The “direst situations” are from Meta to mountainous Antioquia and from the Pacific coast to the Catatumbo region in the east, he said..
“To date, 296 men and women who laid down their arms in good faith have lost their lives, mainly to actions of illegal armed groups and criminal organizations,” he said.
Ruiz said conflict-affected communities, former combatants and social leaders “still bear the brunt of the actions of illegal armed actors taking advantage of a limited state presence, poverty and illicit economies.” He added that Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities are also “being disproportionately affected by all kinds of violence.