Cecilia Coicue was killed in an area marked as one of the 23 zones where FARC rebels will go to demobilize as part of the peace accords.
In a somber sign for the budding era of peace in Colombia after over half a century of civil war, a campesino leader and peace activist has been murdered in the northeastern department of Cauca, one of the areas hardest hit by decades of internal conflict between government forces and FARC.
Cecilia Coicue, a 62-year-old rural leader and member of the Marcha Patriotica movement, was found dead Wednesday on her plot of land in the community of La Cominera, in Cauca’s municipality of Corinto, with a “wound caused by a sharp weapon,” the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia announced in a statement Thursday.
Coicue’s farm is located in an area designated as a so-called “concentration zones” where troops from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will go as part of the process of disarming, verifying the cease-fire, and transitioning former rebels back into Colombian society in the coming months.
Rural and Indigenous organizations have expressed grief and alarm over the Coicue’s killing, along with murders of six other murders in Cauca in recent weeks, according to Colombia’s El Tiempo. The assassination also comes as a troubling sign for the country’s much-heralded new era of peace just over a week after the start of a definitive bilateral cease-fire between the two sides of the country’s five-decade armed conflict.
The leftist Marcha Patriotica, one of Colombia’s largest social movements, dubbed it a “cowardly attack on peace.”
In a statement, the FARC condemned the murder as a “terrible sign” in the early stages of building peace in the wake of the unveiling of the final accords in Havana, Cuba, on Aug. 24 and linked Coicue’s case to a broader systemic problem of violence against human rights defenders and political activists.
A Stable and Lasting Peace will not materialize if the targeted killing of civic and popular leaders persists
The Secretariat of the FARC-EP rejects the murder of Cecilia Coicué; a social leader in the municipality of Corinto – Cauca, militant of Marcha Patriótica and owner of the grounds where the installation of a Transitory Point of Normalization is planned to take place at the village of La Cominera within the context of the Normalization Process agreed in the Havana Peace Talks.
Her assassination, which occurred on September 6 at a time when Cecilia was located within her property, is a bad sign of trustworthiness in the development of peace-building in the territories. These events occur as we move towards the implementation of all mechanisms of the Bilateral Ceasefire and normalization of the territories.
This is not an isolated event, but rather part of long series of killings and threats against social leaders in the southwestern region of Colombia, which constitutes a serious humanitarian crisis that should raise concerns within the National Government, the Colombian people and the international community.
These events demonstrate that it is urgent to immediately implement in the territories the measures agreed in the Security Guarantees point of the Final agreement.
From Havana, we send our compatriot condolences to the family of Cecilia Coicué as well as to her peers and the entire community of La Cominera. We request the immediate clarification of her assassination and expect concrete actions that would allow for all of us to say that these types of situations will not happen anymore.
FARC is set to disarm and transition into a legal political party through the peace accords.
Meanwhile, Colombian General Alberto Jose Mejia responded to Coicue’s death by calling it a “situation of utmost concern,” in an interview with the local station Blu Radio. Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo has called for a thorough investigation into the case.
In July, the Ministry of the Interior announced that at least 133 members of Marcha Patriotica had been assassinated since it was founded in 2012 as a broad political movement for peace that now brings together some 2,000 social organizations. The movements has called on the government to address the problem of right-wing paramilitary groups, which it holds responsible for targeting is leader with violence.
The murder comes just weeks ahead of the plebiscite that will ask Colombian voters whether or not they support the peace deal reached in Havana between the government and the FARC, aimed at giving democratic legitimacy to the accords. Ahead of the vote, right-wing factions, led most prominently by former Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana, have called for a “No” vote on the ballot.
Marcha Patriotica slammed such positions on its Twitter account Thursday, accusing “enemies of peace” of attacking social activists while fearmongering with rhetoric that claims the peace deal will offer impunity to former rebel fighters.
The movement also demanded “guarantees to exercise political rights without costing lives.”
Colombia’s more than five decades civil war has uprooted more than 6.3 million people and left more than 220,000 people dead. Most of the abuses have allegedly been committed by right-wing paramilitary militias.