BOGOTA, July 21 (Reuters) – Colombia’s top criminal gangs, who are linked to producing and trafficking cocaine, on Thursday proposed a ceasefire to the incoming government of leftist Gustavo Petro as a starting point to peace talks, six groups said in a statement.
The groups, which are spread throughout Colombia, are accused by the current government of killing social leaders and attacking the Andean country’s military as part of a strategy to control coca crops – the chief ingredient in cocaine – as well as labs for producing the drug and trafficking routes.
Petro, a 62-year old economist who will become Colombia’s first leftist president on Aug. 7, proposed talks with criminal groups linked to drug-trafficking during his campaign.
Alvaro Leyva, who Petro picked to be his foreign minister, told journalists that peace with all illegal armed groups is one of the president-elect’s proposals to achieve “total peace.”
The armed groups, which security sources say boast some 2,000 armed combatants, are willing to coordinate a ceasefire as of Petro’s inauguration, the statement added.
Petro, who will seek approval in Colombia’s Congress for ambitious economic and social projects to combat poverty and inequality, hopes to consolidate peace in the country, which has been afflicted by almost six decades of an internal armed conflict.
The conflict left around 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018, as well as millions of people displaced, according to a report from the country’s truth commission.
The illegal armed groups sought guarantees equal to those obtained by others that previously disarmed through peace agreements, in addition to suspending extradition of people committed to any potential peace process.