translated from Spanish: Bojayá leader advocates dialogue with ELN to avoid death row inmates

Bojayá (Colombia).- On May 2, 2002, Leyner Palacios lost 32 family and friends in the Bojayá massacre and fears repeating that tragedy, calling on the Colombian government to return to peace dialogues with the national liberation army (ELN) guerrillas, deadlocked since last January.» The fact that we do not have a dialogue with the ELN is to condemn ourselves to communities that have shown a position for peace, is to condemn ourselves to death and to that we are not willing,» Palacios told Efe in Bojayá, where he witnessed the definitive burial of nearly a hundred of the victims of one of the most bloody massacres of the Colombian conflict.

For Palacios, winner in Ottawa 2017 of the Global Pluralism Award for claiming the rights and struggle of the victims of the conflict, it is essential that the Government understands that the ELN is a factor of violence in the department of Chocó for its clashes with the Gulf Clan, the main criminal gang of the país.NO REPORPRE17 years ago the Bojayá massacre shook the country when the FARC guerrilla slashed a cylinder bomb against the United Autodefense Paramilitaries of Colombia (AUC) and the explosive fell in the church where part of the village had taken refuge, killing at least 79 people, although other figures speak of 119 dead and dozens injured. That is why Bojayá, a locality nestled in a jungle area of Chocó, supports reconciliation and peace and asks for guarantees of non-repetition but sees with frustration the situation experienced by the presence of the ELN and the Gulf Clan, as the community leader explained.» Today Bojayá is in a post-mortem situation again, today armed groups have our villages surrounded, we have around 7,000 people in confinement right now. We are surrounded by the ELN and paramilitarism and we have very strong levels of omission by the military authorities,» Palacios laments.SUPPORT TO THE PAZPalacios also called on the Government more committed to the implementation of the agreement signed with the former FARC guerrilla on 24 November 2016, for it is crucial for Bojayá that the benefits of peace reach that forgotten region of western Colombia.» It is very important for us that the Development Programmes with territorial focus (PDET) arrive, that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and the Truth Commission are well implemented,» he said. He also recalled that on 2 October 2016 the option of «yes» in the plebiscite over the peace agreement won a landslide victory with 95.76% of the vote in Bojayá, while in the country as a whole the «no» was imposed by a narrow margin.
In Bojayá we saw a forcefulness and manifested our will to build peace in the plebiscite,» he apostilled.

INSPIRING REMEMBERWhen former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) received the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, Palacios was invited to the ceremony held in Oslo.In his speech, Santos recalled that the FARC asked the victims of Bojayá and Palacios for forgiveness, on behalf of them, he accepted. The former representative then highlighted the «paradox» that while the victims are the most willing to reconcile, «many who have not suffered in their own flesh the conflict resist peace.» Palacios referred to that moment as «moving» by the way the ex-man valued the work of the victims in building peace while acknowledging their suffering.» The victims cannot repeat so much aggression that they have sown us, we cannot multiply all that havoc of blood and hatred that they have sown in our hearts. We have to be different people,» he said.

Relatives of the victims of the Bojayá massacre carry the coffins with the remains of their loved ones to a mausoleum on November 18, 2019, in Bojayá. / EFE.

CLAMOR FOR LIFEThe social leader advocated for the safety of his community and asked those who are skeptics of the peace agreement to put themselves in their shoes, for the victims can teach them that «pain must be made joy».» If Colombia is not for this way of agredison we are going to make this country a hell and that is why reconciliation is very important, that is why we are invited by all Colombians to go out to meet the brother,» he said.

Palaces. / EFE.

Palacios insisted that refusing to negotiate peace with the various armed groups is condemning Colombians living in the regions to death.» I don’t want to die, I want to go on living (…) Today we have a chance to make an imperfect peace instead of making a perfect war. We have been in violence for 54 years and what has left us is tragedies like the one here,» he concluded. 

Original source in Spanish

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