On December 5 the Colombian Government and the country’s largest rebel group – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – reconvened for the second stage of peace talks.
The peace talks have so far concentrated on land reform but four other points are also on the table. These are: an end to armed conflict, guarantees for the exercise of political opposition and citizen participation, drug trafficking and the rights of victims of the conflict.
As a show of faith the FARC has also declared a two month unilateral ceasefire between November 20 and January 20, 2013.
The FARC’s actions in these initial stages of peace negotiation are a strong indication that there could be a reduced risk of kidnaps for ransom in Colombia. But caution must be urged – there are several active groups that continue to pose a kidnap threat in the country.
Shortly after exploratory talks between the Colombian government and FARC representatives began in February the rebels pledged to cease kidnapping civilians. The rebels also released four Chinese hostages three days after the peace talks began in Cuba.
The hostages had been held in captivity for 17 months and are so far the only known foreign nationals to be held by the FARC, according to Control Risks.
The positive impact of the peace talks on the number of kidnaps is questionable, however. Local media reported that the FARC is still holding a large number of hostages in captivity and plans to exchange them for imprisoned guerrillas.
In addition, the majority of kidnaps that occur in Colombia are carried out by other criminal groups, not the FARC. Other criminal groups were responsible for 64% of all kidnaps in Colombia in 2011, according to Control Risks.
The director of anti-kidnapping and anti-extortion at the Colombian police said on 24 October that 43 people were being held by these criminal groups.
As these gangs often sell their victims to the FARC guerrillas who make a ransom demand to the victim’s family, FARC’s proclaimed abstention from involvement in kidnapping could have an impact on the demand for hostages.
Another big Colombian rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), is not covered by the FARC’s ceasefire or its promise to stop kidnapping. Thus, they continue to provide a market for gangs to sell hostages to and an obstacle to the reduction of kidnap for ransom in Colombia. The ELN have 14 hostages in their possession, according to Control Risks.
Finally, it is worth considering what will happen to the estimated 8,000 members of FARC’s rural-based insurgency if the peace talks are successful. A large number of former guerrillas who are highly experienced in kidnapping and extortion will be left in need of an income.
Whether or not these people will turn their back on crime just because the FARC has signed a peace treaty is an open question. A major challenge following a successful peace negotiation for the Colombian government will be the rehabilitation of these former guerrillas into Colombian society to prevent the possibility of them re-joining a criminal gang and continuing the kidnapping activity.
The peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government might not signal an end to the kidnap problem altogether. But it does represent a definitive step in the right direction.
By Will Miller and guest blogger Sarah Gerken, Special Contingency Risks (SCR)