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Colombia president, ex-rebels meet to curb ongoing violence

Colombian President Iván Duque’s government and former guerrillas who signed an historic peace deal four years ago ending Latin America’s longest-running conflict are pledging to work together to stop violence against ex-combatants.

The head of state – a critic of the accord – welcomed a group of ex-rebels to the presidential palace Friday, less than a week after a caravan of over 200 former combatants arrived in the capital to raise awareness about ongoing violence.

Both sides emerged from the meeting declaring progress, with the government vowing to hold a series of meetings with ex-rebels in various parts of the country where they are starting businesses and embarking on life as civilians.

“This was an encouraging event,” said Pastor Alape, a former rebel leader who became a chief guerrilla envoy during peace talks.

The government’s 2016 accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia remains contentious in the South American nation. Detractors feel the agreement is far too generous to ex-rebels, who can avoid jail time so long as they fully confess their crimes and are also entitled to 10 seats in congress. Supporters contend such concessions were necessary to end a brutal conflict that left hundreds of thousands dead.

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A near constant spate of violence against ex-combatants continues to draw alarm. The former rebels said Friday that Fredy Ramos, who signed the accord, was murdered in the Cauca province, making him the 238th rebel killed since the peace agreement went into effect.

The meeting also comes as Duque’s party pushes a proposal to severely weaken the transitional justice system under which most rebels are granted amnesty and forbid those responsible for crimes from holding public office.

Colombia’s chief prosecutor has blamed drug trafficking groups that moved into territories once controlled by the rebels for many of the crimes.

Emilio Archila, the president’s adviser overseeing the accord’s implementation, said he felt the frank talk on issues concerning to both rebels and the government was an important step in addressing security.

“We’re all aware that we’re on the same side,” Archila said after the meeting. “We have enemies – and they are the same enemies.”