January 13, 2020 / 1:19 PM / 7 days ago

Armed conflict in Colombia could heat up in 2020: peace mediator

FILE PHOTO: Economist and former UN official Henry Acosta, speaks during a Reuters interview in Cali, Colombia January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Jaime Acosta

CALI, Colombia (Reuters) - Armed conflict in Colombia could heat up in 2020 and there could even be bombings in cities if dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) follow through with plans to pressure the government into a new peace deal, an expert mediator said on Monday.

Henry Acosta, who traversed the Andean country for more than a decade to help bring the FARC and government together for peace talks that eventually lead to a 2016 deal, said he fears a resurgence in conflict as rebels who rejected demobilization push for constitutional reform they believe would guarantee political, economical and social change

The 71-year-old economist based his assessment on the declaration made by some former FARC commanders who returned to arms last year. They cited what they called a breakdown in the accord, which ended the FARC’s part in a conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people and displaced millions.

“It’s a big risk because (the dissidents) have said that there won’t be pitched battles but rather urban warfare. Well, if there are no battles, there will be bombings in urban areas,” Acosta said in an interview with Reuters at his house on the outskirts of the city of Cali.

“There are different communications that say in 2020 will see the start of the operations that they are announcing,” Acosta said, lamenting the slow pace of the reintegration of some 13,000 former FARC members into Colombian society.

Commanders of the dissidents, which according to intelligence sources number around 2,500 combatants, also announced a coordination of efforts with guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN). President Ivan Duque’s government ended talks with the ELN after it said it would not suspend kidnappings or attacks.

“Colombia is very close to having a second war or a second conflict,” the peace facilitator said, adding that the objectives of any attacks would be the properties of politicians or state-owned businesses.

Acosta said he was willing to build bridges between the government and the dissident rebels and called on them to negotiate so as to avoid escalating confrontation.

“There is no need to start spilling blood to know that you need to sit and negotiate. Every drop of blood spilled is needless. It is advisable and necessary for the state and the leadership of this new insurgency sit down and negotiate,” he said.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by David Gregorio

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