In Colombia, Success of AUC Peace Process Depends on Reconciliation

BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- There are few countries in the world that are in the midst of an armed conflict while also facing a post-conflict situation. Today, Colombia, the third most populous country in Latin America, is confronting such a challenge.

Three years ago, Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe, initiated a peace process with the Self- Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an umbrella organization of right-wing paramilitary factions. Since then, nearly 32,000 fighters have laid down their arms. In July 2005, the controversial Justice and Peace Law was passed which set out the framework for demobilization, the punishments paramilitaries would receive and what compensation victims could expect. The law, which provides immunity from extradition to the United States and a maximum eight-year prison sentence, has been criticized by local and international NGOs for being too lenient.

In recent months, notorious ex-paramilitary chiefs have been seen roaming around the country in Hummers, going on shopping sprees and parading in fancy restaurants. It was time to rein the warlords in. Last month, Uribe ordered their arrests in a surprise crackdown and gave the marauding paramilitary chiefs a stark ultimatum: Either voluntarily turn yourselves in or relinquish the benefits of the Justice and Peace Law. Uribe decided it was high time to start the judicial process which up until then had been in limbo and was steadily losing credibility in Colombia and abroad.

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