FARC dissident fighting leaves 18 dead in southern Colombia

BOGOTA, Nov 21 (Reuters) - At least 18 people died in fighting between two FARC dissident factions for control of a drug trafficking area in Colombia's southern jungle, said Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez on Monday.

The clashes took place over the weekend in a rural area of Putumayo province, bordering Ecuador and Peru.

The incident is the highest death toll from fighting among illegal armed groups since President Gustavo Petro took office in August as Colombia's first leftist leader.

"People from the population collected corpses and moved them to the cemetery (...) 18 people died in the confrontations, there are no reports of people from the community, although some families have been displaced," Velasquez told reporters.

Petro has promised to bring "total peace" to Colombia by ending a nearly six-decade bloody internal armed conflict that left at least 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018 alone.

Negotiators from his government will begin renewed peace talks with the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels later on Monday. read more

A peace agreement signed in 2016 allowed more than 13,000 members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to reintegrate into civilian life and form a legal political party.

But some FARC fronts never accepted the agreement and former leaders who signed it formed a major dissident group in 2019, alleging betrayal of the deal's conditions by the state.

Petro has said his peace plans include FARC leaders who abandoned their group's agreement and reduced sentences for criminal gangs who surrender.

Security sources estimate there are around 2,400 FARC dissidents and say the groups are involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Editing by Bernadette Baum

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