Colombian government and dissident rebels set date for talks

Vanessa Buschlüter,BBC News

Twitter/@BrunoRguezP Cuban Foreign Minister tweeted a group photoTwitter/@BrunoRguezP

Cuba, one of the guarantor countries in the peace talks, tweeted a group photo

Colombia’s government and a group of leftist rebels have said they will begin formal peace talks later this month.

The group, which calls itself the Second Marketalia, broke away from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016 after the latter signed a peace deal.

The talks are part of President Gustavo Petro’s plan to bring “complete peace” to Colombia.

While negotiations with other rebel groups have proven difficult, President Petro has insisted they are the only way to ensure peace in the conflict-torn Andean country.

The Second Marketalia is one of the main dissident groups to emerge after most FARC rebels surrendered in 2016.

The group is believed to have up to 1,000 fighters, is involved in cocaine trafficking and kidnappings for ransom, and has been known to attack Colombian security forces.

Last month, the Colombian army demolished a secret “factory” where members of the Second Marketalia had loaded drones with explosives, which they planned to detonate over police stations and military bases.

Although it is most active along Colombia’s border with Venezuela, it also has units operating in other parts of the country.

Its leader, whose nickname is Iván Márquez, was one of the main negotiators of the 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC.

But, three years after the agreement was signed, He appeared in a video alongside other former FARC leaders, calling on his followers to take up arms again,

His appearance in the video – which was also confirmed by Colombia’s Defense Ministry – quelled rumors that he had been assassinated.

He accused the Colombian state of “betraying” the peace deal and said it was “indifferent” to the hundreds of social leaders and former rebels killed in the years since the peace deal was signed.

But Mr Márquez’s signature appears on a document reflecting the agreement between the government and the Second Marketalia to meet in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, on June 24, with talks scheduled to begin the following day.

The group’s leadership has been disrupted since its inception in 2019

In 2021, Jesús Santrich, Henry Castellanos Garzón – better known by his nickname of Romana – and Hernán Darío Velásquez, better known as El Pesa, were all killed.

The chief negotiator for the disgruntled rebels is not their leader, Mr Márquez, but a man called Walter Mendoza, who joined the Farc in the 1970s.

He is notorious for creating an elite squad of rebels who specialized in complex operations.

Armando Novoa will lead from the government side.

Cuba, Norway and Venezuela will act as guarantors

The insurgents are believed to be operating from a base in the border area between the two countries.