Colombia’s Petro accuses armed group of violating ceasefire

Bogota accuses the Gulf Clan of backing protests by illegal miners that cut off drinking water to communities in the northwest.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaks at a podium
Colombian President Gustavo Petro is promoting a 'total peace' plan to end nearly 60 years of armed conflict, which has killed at least 450,000 people [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has accused the Gulf Clan criminal group of violating a ceasefire agreement by attacking an aqueduct during protests by illegal gold miners in the country’s northwest.

Roadblocks connected to the demonstrations affected up to 300,000 people across 12 municipalities in Colombia’s Antioquia and Cordoba provinces, resulting in shortages of fuel, food and medicine, the government said.

Police lifted the majority of the roadblocks last week, but a group of miners destroyed an aqueduct, a toll and an ambulance on Sunday and authorities believe they were carrying out the orders of the Gulf Clan.

“Affecting a city’s drinking water is putting at risk the lives of boys and girls, of all human beings,” Petro said on Twitter on Sunday.

“With its hostility against the population, the Gulf Clan has broken the ceasefire.”

The group did not immediately respond to Petro’s statement.

The Gulf Clan, also known as the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces, reached a truce late last year with the government as part of Petro’s “total peace” plan to end nearly 60 years of armed conflict, which has killed at least 450,000 people.

Bogota announced on January 1 that a six-month ceasefire deal had been reached with a handful of armed groups, including the Gulf Clan and the National Liberation Army, or ELN, the country’s largest remaining rebel organisation.

But the ELN swiftly denied it had accepted any such agreement, saying a ceasefire “was merely a proposal to be considered” and forcing the government to backtrack.

Last week, a second round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN concluded in Mexico City, with both sides hailing their progress and saying efforts to reach a truce would continue in a third round of negotiations set to take place in Cuba.

“We took the first steps to firm up a bilateral, national and temporary ceasefire which will create better conditions for Colombians’ mobilisation and participation in the peace process,” the ELN’s Pablo Beltran said on Friday.

Petro is hoping Congress will pass a law approving surrender deals for criminal gangs, including benefits such as reduced prison sentences, in exchange for dismantling operations and paying reparations to victims, among other things.

Meanwhile, miners continue to protest in the country’s northwest, with attacks against medical facilities, vandalism and roadblocks encouraged by the Gulf Clan, according to the military, police and government.

Negotiations between the government and the miners have not yet resulted in a deal.

The military has stepped up operations to secure the region. Over the weekend, soldiers blew up four excavators used in illegal gold mining in the Cauca River, raising the number of machines destroyed over the last two weeks to 13.

The Gulf Clan is made up of former right-wing paramilitaries, who were broken up in a 2006 peace deal negotiated by former President Alvaro Uribe.

According to official estimates, the group is behind between 30 and 60 percent of the drugs exported from Colombia, the world’s largest producer of cocaine.

Source: News Agencies