One of Colombia's most powerful armed groups offers ceasefire

One of Colombia's most powerful armed groups offers ceasefire

One of Colombia's most feared armed groups has announced a unilateral ceasefire in the hopes of entering peace talks with the government of Colombia's new leftist leader Gustavo Petro.

The Gulf Clan, a notorious drug-trafficking militia, launched a campaign of terror after the US government executed its leader Dairo Antonio suga in May, or Otoniel assassinating dozens of police and holding large swaths of the country hostage.

The ceasefire announced by the group on Sunday was an expression of goodwill with the new government and the broad willingness to search for new paths of peace The offer comes as Petro said his government was about to restart negotiations with the leftist National Liberation Army ELN rebels after the rebels carried out a car bomb attack at a police academy in Bogot in 2019.

Both armed groups are among the largest and most powerful in Colombia, both of whom are wanted internationally for narco-trafficking.

Petro, a former insurgent of the now defunct M-19 guerrillas, was elected on a wide range of promises from fighting inequality to establishing peace with armed groups that have only grown more violent in recent years.

The president said in a speech on Sunday that he must end the perpetual war of Colombia once and for all six decades of violence and armed conflict.

Any peace pact with the militias would solidify Petro's legacy as a historic leader.

Negotiations with such groups are not uncommon in a place like Colombia, which has struggled with waves of armed conflict for much of its history. The government hatched deals with military groups in the mid-2000 s and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Farc rebels in 2016.

It is an opportunity, said Sergio Guzm n, director of Colombia Risk Analysis. The Gulf Clan has already shown its capacity to cripple 11 departments of Colombia. The ELN believes that this is an opportunity to negotiate with a more favorable government on the left. Many Colombians fear that the talks could only deepen the conflict in the South American country.

Violence in her northern home of Los Montes de Mara, an area that is a key to illegal gold mining and drug trafficking, has increased in recent years, following the country s 2016 peace pact with the Farc. Failures by previous governments to fill the power vacuum left by the rebels has resulted in violent power grabs by other groups including the ELN and the Gulf Clan.

Yirley Velazco, a human rights defender, flees her home and now travels with an armed government bodyguard after receiving hundreds of death threats from the Gulf Clan.

Velazco said that this wave of violence had grown massively. The leader said she hoped that the Petro government would end the violence, but she also worries that any new accords could create a new, more bloody fight for control.

I'm scared because if they're fighting for power they're even more dangerous, said Velazco.

Petro will be hard-pressed to reach an agreement with groups due to political polarization in Colombia and failures by the previous government of Iv n Duque to implement the 2016 peace pact, while Guzm n said the peace talks would be a step in the right direction.

Petro will have to show that he is not simply handing over the keys of the castle to groups wanted for human rights abuses and narco-trafficking.

Fighters considering laying down their weapons will want security and economic reassurances from the government, which Petro may not have the capacity to deliver on.

He said it was not going to be easy.