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article imageColombia's FARC suspends campaigning citing threats to candidates

By AFP     Feb 9, 2018 in World

The former Colombian guerrilla group FARC suspended campaigns for political office Friday, citing a lack of security safeguards that have put its candidates at risk.

Campaigning "will be temporarily suspended until the government gives us minimum guarantees" that the leftist party's candidates can campaign safely, FARC vice presidential candidate Imelda Daza told AFP.

The party's presidential candidate Rodrigo Londono has been verbally attacked at rallies, raising fears of political violence as the country heads toward congressional and then presidential elections later this year.

The FARC signed a peace agreement with the government in late 2016, ending a more than half-century-long insurgency.

But since then, more than 40 former fighters, relatives and activists have been murdered and tensions have spilled into the campaign.

Security personnel have had to protect Londono from people trying to assault him at campaign events or upon exiting media interviews.

"At the very least we demand respect for our physical integrity and the right to present our ideas," Daza said.

- 'Incitement to violence' -

The peace deal guaranteed the FARC 10 seats in Colombia's bicameral congress -- five in each chamber -- for two four-year periods.

FARC candidates still need to campaign for the seats, however.

Colombians elect members of Congress in March, and will choose a new president in May.

Recent polls show that just one percent of voters support Londono -- formerly the top FARC guerrilla leader known by the nom de guerre "Timochenko."

Nevertheless, his presence has raised passions, and Londono has been forced to cancel campaign stops.

Daza said that Ivan Marquez, an ex-guerrilla commander and current FARC senate candidate, had to cancel a public event in the southern city of Florencia on Monday due to "incitement to violence" by a senator from the conservative Centro Democratico party.

Daza blamed "acts of sabotage" on groups opposed to the peace agreement, which was rejected in an October 2016 plebescite but then re-negotiated and approved by Congress the following month.

"The right to protest cannot be used as an argument to justify acts and behavior classified as crimes under the Colombian criminal code," said Pablo Catatumbo, another ex-guerrilla leader and FARC senate candidate.

Speaking at a Bogota press conference, Catatumbo said violence against FARC candidates in three departments had resulted in injuries to people and damage to vehicles and a labor union headquarters.

However, no FARC candidates are known to have been physically injured, and Daza said none had received death threats.

Vice President Oscar Naranjo said Wednesday that 28 ex-guerrillas and 12 relatives of ex-guerrillas, as well as 10 civil society leaders associated with the FARC, have been murdered since the peace deal was signed.

The FARC says 37 ex-fighters have been killed since the peace accord signing.

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