UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he regrets the "polarization and division" in Colombia over elements of the 2016 peace deal and is calling on the government to ensure that any changes to the accord respect commitments made to rebels who laid down their arms.
The U.N. chief singled out the contentious debate over six changes that Colombia's government enacted last month for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which was established under the agreement to try former combatants accused of atrocities. He also expressed concern about the polarization over government-proposed constitutional changes.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Tuesday, Guterres also expressed "deep concern" that the U.N. mission in Colombia has verified 123 killings of former combatants since the peace deal was signed by the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. This includes 14 FARC killings between late March and late June, he said. Since 2016, Guterres added, 10 combatants have also disappeared and there have been 17 attempted homicides.
He said the attacks are closely related to the increasing presence of "criminal armed groups and illegal and informal economies" in areas vacated by the FARC "where the state has not established an effective presence and control."
"Urgently implementing comprehensive security guarantees and redoubling efforts to dismantle illegal groups and criminal structures, which pose a major threat to communities and peace implementation, are key steps to address these challenges," Guterres said.
The U.N. chief also cited continuing "egregious attacks" on social leaders and human rights defenders, saying the U.N. human rights office in Colombia has verified 230 such killings since the peace deal was signed. This includes seven verified in the last three months, he said, adding that eight others were pending verification.
With regional and local elections scheduled for October, Guterres noted that the Electoral Observation Mission, a non-governmental body, warned in a May 27 report that acts of violence and intimidation against local leaders may increase in coming months. The electoral mission also noted that reported incidents against potential candidates were 50 percent higher than in the equivalent period before the previous local elections in 2015, he said.
The secretary-general's report was issued ahead of next week's visit to Colombia by the Security Council for a firsthand look at implementation of the 2016 agreement and meetings with government, FARC and civil society officials. Council members also intend to make a field visit.
Peruvian Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, who will co-lead the July 11-14 visit with Britain, said last week that its main objective is to show the council's "full commitment" to the peace process and "better understand the priorities and concerns" of the parties and key players.
On the positive side, Guterres cited "a strong commitment to the reintegration process by the government and FARC," and the decision of the FARC political party to participate in the upcoming local elections for the first time. He also said the FARC "has contributed constructively to congressional debate."
The secretary-general said the U.N. mission has verified that "the vast majority" of former FARC members are meeting their commitments under the peace agreement. He said 10,708 of the 13,068 former FARC combatants on the government's registry were surveyed, and "they all confirmed their participation in the reintegration process, an encouraging sign almost two years after completion of the laying-down of weapons."
Guterres noted that the government said the 2,360 former FARC members that couldn't be contacted "had not necessarily left the reintegration process."
He urged an "inclusive dialogue among all political forces based on respect for deeply felt differences, in particular in the light of new proposed constitutional reforms."
He also called for urgent responses to counter violence in hard-hit areas, and urged the government to establish its presence in historically neglected areas.
"While that is a long-term challenge that successive administrations have failed to meet, it cannot be postponed and must be tackled with urgency," Guterres said.