February 25, 2015 / 8:24 PM / 3 years ago

Colombia peace talks saved 5,000 people from death, injury: report

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s ongoing peace negotiations with Marxist FARC rebels saved 5,000 people from being killed or injured last year, amid fewer confrontations between the military and guerrillas, according to a report by a local think-tank on Wednesday.

The aim of the two-year-old talks between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels is to end five decades of armed conflict which have claimed 220,000 lives and displaced millions.

While the FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire in December, the government has refused to end its military offensives, citing fears that the rebels could use a bilateral ceasefire to re-group or re-arm.

“For the first time we’ve registered a reduction in armed activity. We’ve avoided close to 5,000 dead or injured combatants and civilians because of the negotiations,” said Leon Valencia, director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, which based the report on official as well as non-government data.

“This is an advance, a first glimpse of peace, a sample of what we can achieve if we reach peace,” Valencia added.

The reduction in violence was due to ceasefires declared by the FARC during congressional elections in March and two rounds of presidential elections in May and June, the report said.

Armed actions by the FARC were down 40 percent in 2014, according to the report, while displacement was down 57 percent as 97,453 people fled their homes last year, down from 228,526 in 2013.

Kidnappings for ransom, once a common rebel tactic to raise funds, were also down while extortion and attacks against oil infrastructure increased.

Negotiators have reached partial accord on land reform, political participation for ex-guerrillas, and an end to the illegal drugs trade. The complex issues of demobilization and victim reparations are still on the table.

Colombians are set to vote in a referendum before any final deal can be implemented.

The country’s second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), increased attacks and kidnappings in 2014, even expanding back into territories from which they had been ousted, the report said.

The increased activity may be an effort by the ELN, which has held exploratory talks with the government, to strengthen its hand should it also begin to be included in formal peace negotiations, Valencia said.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb

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