TOP STORIES Armed groups are on the rise in the run-up...

Armed groups are on the rise in the run-up to the elections and threaten to tear Colombia apart again.

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The Colombian Peace Agreement, signed in 2016 by the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was supposed to usher in a new era of peace in a country that had endured more than five decades of war. The deal was that the rebels lay down their arms while the government flooded the conflict zones with jobs, eliminating the poverty and inequality that had started the war.

But in many places the government never arrived. Instead, there has been a return to killing, displacement and violence in many rural areas of Colombia, which in some regions are now just as bad or even worse than before the agreement.

Massacres and killings of human rights defenders have risen sharply since 2016, according to the UN. And the number of displaced people remains strikingly high: last year alone, 147,000 people were displaced from their homes, according to government data.

It’s not because FARC, as an organized fighting force, is back. Rather, the territorial vacuum left by the old insurgency and the absence of many promised government reforms have unleashed a criminal quagmire as new groups form and old groups mutate in the struggle for control of a thriving illicit economy.

Critics say this new cycle of violence is fueled in part by the government’s lack of commitment to the peace deal’s programs. And quelling growing uncertainty will be one of the most important and difficult tasks for the country’s next president.

Colombia’s current president, Ivan Duque, has indicated that a third of the provisions of the peace agreement have now been fully implemented, allowing the country to fulfill the agreement within its 15-year mandate. But he will leave his post in August of this year after approval ratings plummet many say this reflects both safety concerns and growing frustration over the continued lack of decently paid jobs.

“This government missed the opportunity for an agreement,” said Marco Romero, director of Codhes, a human rights group, calling the current level of violence “scandalous.”

Some security experts warn that unless the next administration takes on a bigger role in curbing these militias and delivering on the deal’s promises, the country could be moving towards a state that looks more like Mexico ravaged by territory-fighting drug gangs than 2000s Colombia. .

“2002 is still a long way off,” said Adam Isakson, director of defense oversight for the Washington office for Latin America, referring to the casualty count in one of the worst years of the war. But we are on this path now.

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