Slow action on deal with FARC leaving ‘power vacuum’: UN

GENEVA/VATICAN CITY: The UN warned on Friday that Colombia was moving too slowly in implementing its peace accord with leftist FARC rebels, which resulted in a “power vacuum” that could be exploited by gangs.
Aimed at ending five decades of conflict, the November 24 pact has huge potential for improving human rights in Colombia, the UN rights office said.
But, its spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani warned, “practical aspects of the demobilisation and disarming of FARC members set out in the accord are not being prioritised.”
The deal calls for FARC guerrillas to gather in 27 zones where they will disarm and demobilise.
“But two weeks into the demobilisation process, none of these zones are equipped to adequately receive them,” she told reporters in Geneva.
She pointed to limited access to safe drinking water, food, health services and electricity in the zones.
“International experience shows that the initial days of demobilisation are the most critical in ensuring combatants do not abandon the peace process,” she said.
FARC members have been gathering in so-called pre-concentration points prior to disarming and demobilising, but these points are plagued by a “similar lack of preparation and facilities,” as well as a lack of concrete security measures, Shamdasani said.
“As FARC guerrillas leave areas that are traditionally under their control, the state has not yet fully stepped in, leaving a power vacuum,” she said.
“Armed and criminal groups are vying for the control of illegal economic activities in these areas.”
She noted that her office had documented 61 killings in Colombia, mainly of human rights activists and social leaders in rural areas.
Meanwhile, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and opposition leader Alvaro Uribe met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday, as the government looked to build consensus for a peace deal with Marxist rebels.
On his third visit to the Vatican, Santos appealed to Francis for support in ending a 52-year war which has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.
“We need your help,” said Santos, who signed a modified peace deal in November after a previous pact was rejected in a plebiscite. He gave the pope a gift of a pen made from a machine gun bullet. Francis, an Argentine who has helped broker diplomatic efforts in Cuba and Venezuela, then received right-wing Senator and former President Uribe, who has been one of the harshest critics of the new peace deal. — AFP/Reuters