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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Fernando Vergara A rebel soldier poses for a photo with his dog.
Historic Peace Deal

Fifty years of conflict in Colombia summed up in five key points

Here are the important points you should know about Colombia’s recent deadly history.

HERE ARE THE five key points you should know about Colombia’s 50-year conflict, after the FARC rebels and the government announced a peace deal this Wednesday.

1. Disputed origins

There is disagreement on when and why war broke out.

In a country covered in mountains and jungle, where the government’s presence is often weak, rural poverty has played a central role in the upsurge of rebels.

Most historians trace the conflict to the 1960s, when several leftist guerrilla groups rose up against a government they accused of subjugating peasants and the poor.

Some go back to the 1940s and a period known as ‘La Violencia’ (the violence), an eruption of bloodshed in the Colombian countryside following the assassination of leftist presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan. Others date it even earlier, to peasant uprisings in the 1920s.

2. Key actors

Colombia Rebels At Ease Photo Gallery Fernando Vergara Three FARC rebels relax in the lead-up to the peace deal. Fernando Vergara

Founded in 1964, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is the country’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group. But there have been many players in the conflict.

Others include:

  • The National Liberation Army (ELN). Still active. Has agreed to peace talks
  • The April 19 Movement (M-19). Demobilized in 1990
  • The People’s Liberation Army (EPL). Demobilized in 1991.

In the 1980s, a right-wing paramilitary group, the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), began fighting the guerrillas. Funded by large landholders, the group sometimes collaborated with the Colombian army. They were disbanded between 2003 and 2006, though remnants continue to operate as criminal gangs.

Drug cartels have also fueled the violence since the 1980s in what is the world’s largest cocaine-producing country.

3. Atrocities on all sides

Colombia Day of the Dissapeared Associated Press Day of the Disappeared, Bogota. Associated Press

Massacres, kidnappings, scorched-earth campaigns and extrajudicial killings have been hallmarks of the conflict – atrocities have been committed on all sides.

The most notorious crimes include:


  • Committed massacres such as the one in the town of Bojaya in 2002, when guerrillas killed at least 79 people sheltering in a church.
  • Kidnapped and held hostages, such as then presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, abducted in 2002 and rescued in 2008.
  • Accused of a 2003 car bombing at the El Nogal social club in Bogota, which killed 36 people.


  • Mass hostage seizures such as the hijacking of Avianca Flight 9463 in 1999.
  • Massacres such as the one in Machuca in 1998, when rebels dynamited an oil pipeline. Burning oil set the village alight and killed 84 people.


  • Besieged the Supreme Court building, the Palace of Justice, in 1985, leaving some 100 people dead.


  • Wiped out entire villages, often blasting loud music as militia members killed and raped victims. In one gruesome case, the El Salado massacre in 2000, 60 people were killed.

Government army

  • Executed hundreds of civilians and reported them as rebels killed in combat in the so-called ‘false positives’ scandal.

4. Long list of victims

The conflict has left 260,000 people dead and forced 6.9 million from their homes in the past five decades. Another 45,000 are missing.

5. Peace efforts

After three failed efforts and four years of new talks, the government and FARC announced a historic peace deal last Wednesday, which will be put to a referendum on October 2.

The peace deal comprises six agreements reached at each step of the arduous negotiations.

They cover justice for victims of the conflict, land reform, political participation for ex-rebels, fighting drug trafficking, disarmament and the implementation and monitoring of the accord.

Under the peace deal, the FARC will become a political party. Its weapons will be melted down to build three peace monuments.

Special courts will be created to judge crimes committed during the conflict.
An amnesty will be granted for less serious offenses. But it will not cover the worst atrocities, such as massacres, torture and rape.

There are, however, obstacles on the way to peace.

Santos’s top rival, former president Alvaro Uribe, is leading a campaign to vote “No” in the referendum, arguing his successor has given too much away to the FARC.

And the government is still fighting a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), whose ongoing kidnappings have derailed efforts to open peace negotiations.

© – AFP 2016

Read: Historic peace deal reached to put an end to world’s longest-running war

Read: Half-century-long war in Colombia comes to an end as historic ceasefire takes hold

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