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Colombia: Activist deaths and postponed peacetalks highlight struggle over land

Three advocates and leftist political organizers were killed across Colombia last month, as FARC and government negotiators announced an unscheduled recess in peace talks until late April.

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At least two peasant leaders in Colombia have been murdered in the past several weeks, heightening concerns about the security of opposition figures and human rights defenders as the government and leftist rebels try to negotiate an end to the country’s nearly 50-year-old internal conflict.

The head of the Colombia office of the United Nations’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Todd Howland, said in a statement that he was “very concerned” about the murders and called on authorities to fully investigate the crimes.

Ermes Vidal, a victims’ rights leader who was fighting to recover the farm he was forced to flee in the northwestern province of Cordoba, disappeared on March 21 after receiving numerous death threats. His body was found four days later on the banks of the Sinu River. Mr. Vidal was a member of several organizations promoting the rights of victims of Colombia’s internal conflict. He is the third person in his family to be killed while seeking to recover their land. 

A few days after Vidal's disappearance, Gustavo Adolfo Pizo, a young leader of the Marcha Patriótica leftist movement and peasant organizer, was stabbed to death in Cauca province on the other end of the country. His brother was also wounded in the attack.

Marcha Patriótica, which brings together peasants and indigenous groups as well as leftist politicians, made its debut shortly before peace talks were announced last year. The group's leaders have stated publicly that the movement could be a point of entry for demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) members seeking to participate in civilian politics.

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