A Colombian rebel group known for kidnapping people for ransom has announced it will end the practice as part of peace talks with the government.
The Central General Command, or Group EMC, a splinter rebel group that broke away from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after disarming in 2017 following a peace deal, made the move on Tuesday in what is seen as a victory for Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro, who aims to achieve “absolute peace” in Colombia, according to the BBC.
Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise in Colombia this year, and the kidnapping of Manuel Díaz, father of Liverpool footballer Luis Díaz, brought international attention to the practice. Liverpool plays in the English Premier League.
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Manuel Díaz was kidnapped on October 28 by the National Liberation Army (ELN), a different rebel group, and held hostage for 12 days before being released. The ELN, however, has vowed not to stop its kidnappings.
Tuesday’s announcement was the first major gain in ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and EMC with the two sides signing a declaration pledging an end to the “practice of conservation for economic purposes”, according to Agence France-Presse. Peace talks with EMC resumed in mid-November after the group briefly withdrew from talks.
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The BBC reports that 91 people are still being held hostage across the country this week.
On Sunday, the body of an American activist and comedian was found with more than a dozen stab wounds and dumped in a ravine after he was allegedly kidnapped and held for ransom in Colombia. It is not clear if his assassination was carried out by any rebel group.
The EMC is the most influential group of FARC rebels who have rejected a peace deal the rebellion signed with the government in 2016, according to AFP. A shaky truce reached in January remains in place, despite multiple violations that have at times threatened to derail peace talks.
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The EMC currently has about 3,530 members – 2,180 fighters and 1,350 others – in areas across Colombia where illegal transactions such as drug trafficking and illegal gold mining take place, security sources told Reuters.
The conflict in Colombia, which dates back to 1964, has killed at least 450,000 people and displaced millions. It is a low-intensity, asymmetric war between security forces, left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.
Petro took office in 2020 and tried to defuse the conflict.