TIME Colombia

This Mother and Baby Survived a Plane Crash and Five Days Lost in the Colombian Jungle

“It’s a miracle”

A mother and her baby have miraculously been found alive five days after their plane crashed in thick jungle in northwestern Colombia.

Nelly Murillo, 18, and her 1-year-old son were discovered Wednesday not far from where the twin-engine Cessna plane had crashed near Quibdo in Choco province, reports the BBC. The cause of the crash is not yet known.

“It’s a miracle,” Colonel Héctor Carrascal of the Colombian air force told Agence France-Presse. “It is a very wild area and it was a catastrophic accident.”

According to the Colombian air force, Murillo suffered only minor injuries and burns and the baby was unharmed. The two were airlifted to a hospital in Quibdo.

“His mother’s spirit must have given him strength to survive,” said Carrascal of the infant.

Rescuers discovered the plane Monday with the body of the pilot, Captain Carlos Mario Ceballos, inside the cockpit.

[BBC]

TIME Soccer

U.S. Advances to World Cup Quarterfinals With 2-0 Win Over Colombia

Alex Morgan, Angela Clavijo
Jason Franson—The Canadian Press/AP Alex Morgan kicks the ball in front of Colombia's Angela Clavijo during a World Cup round of 16 match in Edmonton, Canada, on June 22, 2015

The U.S. is seeking its third World Cup title, but first since 1999

(EDMONTON, Alberta) —Alex Morgan scored her first goal of the Women’s World Cup and the United States advanced to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory over Colombia on Monday night.

Abby Wambach’s penalty kick early in the second half went wide after Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez — a backup herself — was ejected for a foul on Morgan. Stefany Castano, who replaced Perez in goal, got a hand on Morgan’s shot five minutes later, but couldn’t stop the goal to put the United States up 1-0.

Carli Lloyd also scored for the second-ranked Americans, who will face No. 16 China on Friday in Ottawa. The United States is seeking its third World Cup title, but first since 1999.

The Americans have not allowed a goal in 333 minutes.

Colombia has never won soccer’s premier tournament, but the No. 28 Las Cafeteras pulled off one of the biggest upsets in any World Cup in the group stage when they defeated third-ranked France 2-0.

Morgan and Wambach started up top for the United States, which used the same starting lineup as it did in the group-stage finale against Nigeria — a first since Jill Ellis became coach.

It was Morgan’s second straight start after working her way back from a bone bruise in her left knee. Morgan came in as a sub in the first two matches of the tournament.

Perez, a 20-year-old junior at Miami, started because regular goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda was serving a suspension for yellow-card accumulation. Sepulveda had six saves in Colombia’s win over France. Castano had started in Colombia’s World Cup opener, a 1-1 draw with Mexico.

The teams played to a goalless first half, with the United States unable to finish several good chances.

Wambach was ruled offside for her attempt at a rebound goal in the fourth minute. Morgan later had a chance, but her shot bounced in front of Perez, who tipped it up and over the crossbar. Perez made three saves in the first half.

The United States was hurt in the 17th minute when Lauren Holiday got a yellow card, her second of the World Cup. She’ll have to sit out the quarterfinal, and it happened again in the 41st minute when Megan Rapinoe got her second yellow.

Perez was sent off at the start of the second half after sliding into Morgan, who was charging toward goal. After Castano took over, Wambach fooled her on the right side but the penalty kick sailed well left of the post.

After Morgan’s goal in the 53rd minute, Lloyd scored on a penalty kick in the 66th, Lloyd’s first goal of the tournament.

The U.S. had won each of the previous two meetings. When they met nearly three years ago in the London Olympics, Colombia striker Lady Andrade sucker-punched U.S. star Abby Wambach in the eye, drawing a two-match suspension.

In the days before the match in Edmonton, some of Colombia’s players said they felt they’d been disrespected by the Americans ever since.

“Because of something that happened three years ago, they’ve said things that have not been taken by us in the best way,” midfielder Yoreli Rincon said. Andrade told reporters she thought the Americans had “belittled” the Colombians.

Colombia, the third-place finisher in Group F behind France and England, was making its second World Cup appearance; it finished in 14th in 2011 in Germany. Colombia had never won a match in the sport’s premier tournament until the upset of France.

The second-ranked Americans finished on top of the so-called Group of Death, with victories over Australia and Nigeria and a 0-0 tie with Sweden.

China, the Americans’ next opponent, has played in six World Cups, but missed out four years ago. The Steel Roses have never won a title, but they made the final in 1999, losing memorably to the United States on penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl.

 

TIME Colombia

A Baby Survived the Colombia Landslide That Killed 12 Members of His Family

A soldier shovels mud from a house damaged by a mudslide in Salgar, in Colombia's northwestern state of Antioquia, May 19, 2015.
Luis Benavides—Associated Press A soldier shovels mud from a house damaged by a mudslide in Salgar, in Colombia's northwestern state of Antioquia, May 19, 2015.

He was found alive in the mud more than a mile from his home

An 11-month-old baby has survived a huge mudslide in Colombia that killed at least 78 people.

The child’s mother and at least 11 other relatives perished when a flash flood swept through the town of Salgar in northwest Antioquia province Monday, destroying dozens of homes, reports the Associated Press.

Rescuers found Jhosep Diaz lying facedown in the mud more than a mile from his home. Doctors say the infant was cold and hypothermic but believe he survived because he was sleeping in a padded crib when he was swept away.

“He was unconscious and didn’t open his little eyes but was breathing,” Dr. Jesus Antonio Guisao told AP on Wednesday.

The mudslide was the country’s worst natural disaster since the earthquake of 1999 that killed about 1,000 people.

According to the Red Cross, between 50 and 80 people are believed missing, but authorities say there is no chance of finding any more survivors.

The boy’s grandfather Alvaro Hernandez is expected to gain custody. “My grandson’s survival is a miracle,” he said.

[AP]

TIME Colombia

Colombia Defies U.S. and Halts Spraying of Cocaine Crops

A police plane sprays herbicides over coca fields in El Tarra, in the Catatumbo river area of Colombia on June 4, 2008.
Luis Robayo—AP A police plane sprays herbicides over coca fields in El Tarra, in the Catatumbo river area of Colombia on June 4, 2008.

President Juan Manuel Santos said the country would find other ways to destroy coca plants

Colombia’s government ordered a halt Thursday to the use of a herbicide that has formed a major part of U.S.-backed efforts to wipe out cocaine crops in the country, the Times reports.

The country’s Health Ministry had cited concerns after the World Health Organization reclassified the weed-killer glyphosate as a carcinogen (a cancer-causing substance) in March. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 report disagreed, saying there was a lack of convincing evidence that the herbicide causes cancer in humans.

Over the past two decades over 4 million acres of land in Colombia have been sprayed with the herbicide, which kills coca plants (whose leaves are used to make cocaine).

The change in strategy may put a strain on Colombia’s relationship with the U.S. for the first time, as the two countries are usually close allies when it comes to a hard-line approach in the war on drugs. But earlier this month, a White House survey found that the amount of land in Colombia used to grow coca increased by 39% last year

Peru and Bolivia are the two other main cocaine-producing countries, but both avoid chemical herbicides, opting for a more labor-intensive manual eradication instead. This is riskier in Colombia, where the rebel guerrilla fighters have long protected coca crops.

Read More: Experts Fear Surge in Cocaine Supply to U.S. as Colombia Mulls Ending Coca Eradication

TIME Colombia

Experts Fear Surge in Cocaine Supply to U.S. as Colombia Mulls Ending Coca Eradication

A soldier provides security to peasants eradicating coca plantations in the mountains northeast of Medellin, Colombia in 2014. Uprooting coca plants is an alternative to aerial eradication.
Raul Arboleda—AFP/Getty Images A soldier provides security to peasants eradicating coca plantations in the mountains northeast of Medellin, Colombia in 2014. Uprooting coca plants is an alternative to aerial eradication.

American officials are trying to persuade Colombia to continue spraying coca crops with herbicide despite fears that it damages human health

To destroy the raw material for cocaine, Colombian police crop dusters have sprayed herbicide on more than 4 million acres of the country’s coca fields over the last two decades. But the controversial U.S.-backed program could soon be grounded in the wake of a new World Health Organization finding that glyphosate, the active ingredient in that herbicide, may cause cancer.

Citing the WHO report, President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday urged the country’s National Narcotics Council, which is made up of government ministers, to phase out aerial spraying within a few months, a decision that the council could make as soon as Thursday. “The risk does exist,” Santos said. “We need a system that is more efficient and less damaging.”

But amid signs that cocaine production is once again surging in Colombia, a top U.S. counterdrug official staunchly defended aerial eradication. He also dismissed the WHO report on glyphosate — the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Round-Up herbicide used by agro-industry around the world — as bad science.

“Glyphosate is today perhaps the world’s most commonly used herbicide,” William R. Brownfield, who heads the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told TIME. “There is not one single verified case… of cancer being caused by glyphosate.”

However, a March report by the cancer-research arm of the WHO noted that glyphosate has been linked to tumors in mice and rats and that there is some — though limited — evidence that people working with glyphosate face a greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate “is probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Unlike the controlled agricultural use of glyphosate, the Colombian aerial eradication program uses a higher concentration of the herbicide which is sprayed over populated zones and sometimes lands on people, says Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America think tank. The result has been a flood of health complaints. A nationwide study of hospital visits that was conducted by the Drug and Security Research Center at the University of the Andes in Bogota found a higher incidence of skin rashes, respiratory problems and miscarriages in coca-growing regions sprayed with glyphosate between 2003 and 2007.

“This is very solid evidence,” says Daniel Mejia, who directs the center and is also president of the Colombian government’s drug policy advisory commission.

In the coca fields of southern Colombia, peasant farmers these days tend to blame all their ailments on glyphosate. Leaning on his machete, Nittson Cuacialpud says he developed a permanent case of face acne a few years ago after crop-dusters swooped over his one-hectare coca field near the town of La Hormiga.

His neighbor, Sandra Trejo, remembers getting hit by a rain of herbicide which made her hair sticky. But she says it was hard to tell whether glyphosate was dangerous. La Hormiga and surrounding communities lack clean drinking water, overall health conditions are poor, and farmers handle a wide variety of powerful weed killers and precursor chemicals when growing coca and processing the leaves into cocaine.

“People get sick, but we don’t know why,” Trejo says.

Despite the growing controversy over glyphosate, it’s an awkward time for Colombia to be holstering a key drug war weapon. Last week, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released data showing the coca crop in Colombia had expanded 39% between 2013 and 2014 — the country’s first big jump in drug cultivation since 2007. That translates into an increase in potential cocaine production from 185 tons to 245 tons.

Although the 2014 White House numbers are not yet in for Peru and Bolivia, the world’s two other big cocaine producers, the sudden spike in Colombia is troubling. “A 39% jump in coca cultivation will likely increase cocaine supplies, thus lowering street prices,” Isacson said.

Brownfield pointed out that many areas of Colombia, such as the southern border with Ecuador, national parks and Indigenous reserves, have recently been placed off limits to aerial eradication and that coca growers have taken advantage. During its peak years in the mid-2000s, Brownfield said the spray program helped reduce Colombia’s coca crop by 60%,

Yet critics slam aerial eradication as costly and counterproductive. In fact, Colombia is the only country that allows it. In Peru and Bolivia, coca plants are uprooted by anti-drug agents with shovels and machetes. In Colombia, similar efforts have left 62 people dead and hundreds injured because left-wing FARC guerrillas, who are deeply involved in drug trafficking, often protect the fields with land mines and snipers. That’s why Colombia opted for air raids.

But in a 2011 study, Mejia estimated that keeping 1 kilogram of cocaine out of the United States costs $163,000 in coca eradication efforts. By contrast, that cost dropped to $3,600 per kilo by attacking smugglers getting the drugs into the U.S.

There has also been diplomatic and legal fallout. In 2013, Colombia paid a $15 million settlement after Ecuador filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice claiming that the herbicide drifted across the border, causing environmental damage, livestock deaths and health problems in humans.

In calling for an end to aerial eradication, President Santos insisted that other counter-narcotics efforts would continue. However, his overriding strategy is to disarm the FARC guerrillas. The two sides are negotiating in Cuba to end the 51-year-old war and if a final peace treaty is signed, the government has agreed to halt aerial eradication while FARC has promised to get out of the illegal drug trade.

So in spite of his strong support for the air raids, Brownfield, a former U.S. ambassador to Colombia who was once doused in glyphosate while observing a spray operation (and remains cancer free), acknowledges they may end soon. “Change is not necessarily a bad thing,” he says.

TIME Crime

More Than Two Environmental Activists Were Killed Each Week in 2014

US-PERU-ENVIRONMENT-UNREST
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images Diana Rios Rengifo, the daughter of one of the four indigenous Ashéninka leaders murdered in the Peruvian Amazon in early September, speaks during a ceremony in New York on Nov. 17, 2014

A majority of deaths were tied to disputes over hydropower, mining and agri-business

The killing of environmental activists jumped by 20% in 2014, with at least 116 deaths around the world tied to disputes involving land and natural resources, the London-based advocacy organization Global Witness claimed this week.

“[That’s] almost double the number of journalists killed in the same period,” its report said. “Disputes over the ownership, control and use of land was an underlying factor in killings of environmental and land defenders in nearly all documented cases.”

According to How Many More?, the majority of deaths took place in Central and South America; Brazil topped the list with 29 cases followed by Colombia with 25.

Global Witness dubbed Honduras as “the most dangerous country per capita to be an environmental activist,” where during the past five years 101 individuals have been killed in relation to their advocacy work.

The organization urged governments across the globe to take bolder measures to tackle the issue ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference that will be held in Paris later this year.

“Environmental and land defenders are often on the frontlines of efforts to address the climate crisis and are critical to success,” said the report. “Unless governments do more to protect these activists, any words agreed in Paris will ultimately ring hollow.”

TIME Colombia

Colombians Accuse U.S Soldiers and Officials of Sexual Assault and Rape

U.S. military trainers seen in Cucuta, Colombia in 2007.
Carlos Duran—Reuters U.S. military trainers seen in Cucuta, Colombia in 2007.

The allegations emerge after investigations found DEA agents in Colombia consorted with prostitutes and members of drug cartels

Although United States military personnel have helped Colombia gain the upper hand in its war against drug-trafficking guerrillas, Olga Castillo maintains that their off-duty actions can be far less noble. Castillo claims a U.S. Army sergeant and a military contractor drugged her 12-year-old daughter, took her to a Colombian military base near the town of Melgar, and raped her.

A U.S. Army investigation determined that Castillo’s accusations were unfounded and no one has been charged in the case. But Castillo calls the Army investigation a whitewash. And now, a controversial official history of the war alleges that between 2003 and 2007 U.S. troops and foreign military contractors working for U.S. companies sexually abused 53 children in and around Melgar — including Castillo’s daughter.

“Since then, she’s never been the same,” Castillo tells TIME about the incident which happened in 2007. “She’s tried to commit suicide three times.”

There’s no dispute that thousands of Colombians were sexually abused during the country’s 51-year-old conflict. The perpetrators were usually Colombian soldiers, paramilitaries or guerrillas. But a Colombian truth commission report claims that U.S. troops and foreign military contractors were part of the problem.

The report denounces what it calls “sexual imperialism” and states that “there exists abundant information about sexual violence with absolute impunity thanks to bilateral agreements (that provide) diplomatic immunity to U.S. officials.”

Christopher Grey, a spokesman for the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, said his office is launching an investigation into these allegations. “We take this issue very seriously and will aggressively pursue all credible allegations,” Grey said in an e-mail.

The truth commission report was authorized at ongoing peace talks in Cuba between the Colombian government and the guerillas of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Twelve Colombian academics, half chosen by the government and half by the guerrillas, authored the report. Renan Vega, a left-wing university professor who wrote the chapter accusing the Americans of sex abuse, is a FARC appointee. Like the FARC, Vega is fiercely critical of U.S. troops and foreign contractors in Colombia whom he calls “mercenaries.”

What’s more, Vega’s allegations make up just one paragraph of the 800-page report. He does not cite criminal complaints or other sources to back up his claim of 53 sexual assaults. Vega could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the Colombian Attorney General’s office said there is no record of widespread sexual abuse by U.S. troops or foreign contractors in the Melgar area in the mid-2000s.

“I would say there’s no truth to anything involving 50-plus people,” said Keith Sparks, who during the mid-2000s was country manager for DynCorp, one of the largest U.S. military contractors in Colombia. “We had at one point up to 1,000 employees. And there were never, on my watch, any accusations of rape.”

Still, some experts call the truth commission allegations troubling, especially in the wake of other instances of bad behavior by U.S. government employees in Colombia.

In April 2005, for example, five U.S. soldiers who had been working at an anti-narcotics base in eastern Colombia were detained upon arrival in the United States for smuggling 18 kilograms of cocaine. A month later, two more American troops were arrested in a scheme to sell thousands of rounds of assault rifle ammunition to paramilitary groups.

A higher-profile embarrassment came in the run-up 2012 Summit of the Americas in the Colombian city of Cartagena. Members of President Obama’s Secret Service advance team spent a night of heavy partying with local prostitutes, one of whom demanded an $800 fee. That led to a loud argument that spilled into the hallway of their hotel and the resulting “Prosti-Gate” scandal became the enduring memory of the Summit.

And recent investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration found that dating back to 2001 DEA agents had attended numerous sex parties with Colombian prostitutes that were paid for by drug dealers hoping to curry favor with the DEA agents. Adding to the security risk, the prostitutes were constantly around the agents’ laptop computers, BlackBerry devices and other sensitive equipment.

Other egregious behavior included a DEA agent accepting a gift of an AK-47 assault rifle from a paramilitary gunman and another agent badly wounding a prostitute after getting into a fight and throwing a drinks glass at her face. Yet the harshest punishment meted out to these offending agents was a 14-day suspension.

“We now have a handful of examples that are quite troubling,” said Adam Isacson, a security policy analyst for the independent Washington Office on Latin America. “But there hasn’t been a lot of scrutiny or follow up or evidence that U.S. authorities were taking it very seriously.”

Maria Victoria Llorente, director of the Bogotá think tank Ideas for Peace, points out that the long-running war on drugs and guerrillas has produced myriad corruption, human rights and sexual abuse scandals involving Colombian police and soliders. So it’s not exactly shocking, she says, that some of their U.S. counterparts may have also gone over to the dark side.

TIME Colombia

Inside the Struggle to Clear Colombia of Mines

COLOMBIA-LANDMINES-VICTIMS-REHABILITATION
Raul Arboleda—AFP/Getty Images A Colombian soldier victim of landmines gets ready to swim, as part of his rehabilitation therapy session in Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia on March 25, 2015.

A historic deal offers Colombians hope that their country will finally be cleared of the landmines responsible for 11,000 casualties in the past 25 years

For decades, Colombian pilgrims have trekked to a sanctuary high into the Andes Mountains of central Antioquia state known as Christ the King. But now parts of the site are cordoned off with red, skull-and-crossbones signs. It turns out Marxist rebels buried land mines just behind the white statue of Jesus and in 2006 one of these booby traps killed a Colombian soldier.

Amid the 51-year-old guerrilla war, vast tracts of Colombian territory have been sown with land mines. They lie beneath school yards, roads, bean fields and cow pastures. Since 1990, these explosive devices have killed or wounded more than 11,000 Colombians, 40% of whom are civilians. These days, only Afghanistan racks up more annual land mine casualties.

That’s why Colombians cheered the March 7 announcement that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s largest Marxist guerrilla group known as the FARC, will cooperate with the Army to clear its minefields. (The Army has already removed its land mines).

“The proposal for demining is a first step, but a giant step towards making peace,” said Humberto de la Calle, the Colombian government’s chief negotiator at peace talks with the FARC that began in 2012 in Havana, Cuba.

The demining accord is the latest sign that the conflict may at last be winding down. In December, the FARC announced a unilateral ceasefire and later declared that it would no longer recruit children under 17 who account for a large part of its troop strength. In response, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered a temporary halt to highly effective military bombing raids on FARC targets. Many analysts view these moves as a prelude to a government ceasefire and a final peace treaty.

“I do not see the FARC leadership returning back to the Colombian jungles and mountains” to carry on fighting, says Alfonso Cuellar, a columnist for the Bogotá newsweekly Semana. “I am optimistic that we have now crossed the threshold.”

Liliana López is also optimistic. She runs a hotel in Sonsón, a farm town near Christ the King sanctuary. During the worst years of the war, rebels kidnapped López’s mother and killed two of her cousins. Now things have calmed down and her rooms are often full. Still, López says leftover mines are hurting efforts to promote business and tourism. “It’s unsafe for people, for children, for animals,” she says.

Most of the mines were planted by the FARC in the mid-2000s. At the time, the Colombian military was engaged in a massive offensive that cut the size of the rebel army in half to about 7,000 guerrillas. Desperate rebel commanders viewed land mines as a cheap, effective way to bog down advancing soldiers.

But farmers, like Donaldo Gómez, are often the victims. A few years ago Gómez was chopping down weeds in his backyard when his machete struck a land mine. It turned out to be a dud. But his 79-year-old father wasn’t so lucky. In 2003, he died after stepping on a mine that shredded his legs.

“My father was 79,” Gómez says. “He wasn’t sick a day in his life. And then he gets killed by a mine!”

The ongoing conflict has prevented most formal demining operations so frustrated peasants improvise. Some throw rocks into their fields or cast lines to try to hook the detonators, as if they were fishing. Others sprinkle salt in the dirt, believing that the mines will rust and fall apart.

“They can’t wait for demining to happen so they try to reclaim their lands using unsafe methods,” says Jason Villamil, a supervisor for The Halo Trust, a British organization that has cleared mine fields in many war-ravaged nations.

Two years ago, Halo began a small demining operation near Sonsón. However, the rugged terrain and rainy weather slows things down. Wearing blue Kevlar vests and helmets with shatterproof visors, the deminers inch along, clipping away vegetation and combing the soil with metal detectors. But the FARC’s rustic mines are often made with PVC tubing or glass jars, and contain almost no metal – making them much harder to locate.

So far, Halo has cleared about 125 mines in this region. But there are thousands more out there. That’s why the plan for the Army and the FARC to cooperate in destroying land mines is so important. The rebels know where many of the mines are buried, says a former FARC guerrilla who now works as an advisor for The HALO Trust.

After nine years fighting with the FARC, he says: “It now feels good to do be doing this for a living because I’m helping to get these mines out of the ground.”

TIME Colombia

Chinese Ship Detained in Colombia on Suspicion of Weapons Trafficking

COLOMBIA-CHINA-CUBA-TRANSPORT-WEAPONS
Joaquin Sarmiento—AFP/Getty Images A Chinese freighter loaded with unregistered weapons is seen anchored at the port of Cartagena, Colombia, on March 3, 2015

Captain Wu Hong may be charged for carrying illicit cargo

The Chinese captain of a freighter stopped by the Colombian authorities is under house arrest in Cartagena for allegedly carrying unregistered weapons and military equipment bound for Cuba.

The Hong Kong-registered Da Dan Xia has been impounded for a week after local authorities claim 100 tonnes of gunpowder, 99 projectile bases and 3,000 artillery cartridge cases were discovered aboard, reports AFP.

While Beijing’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying insists that the Da Dan Xia has not flouted any Chinese or international laws, Colombian prosecutor Luis Gonzalez Leon says Captain Wu Hong will be charged with weapons trafficking.

The cargo ship was stopped before it was due to arrive in the northern Colombian city of Barranquilla en route to Havana.

[AFP]

TIME Colombia

Colombian Rebels Invite Miss Universe to Peace Talks

The 63rd Annual Miss Universe Pageant - Show
Troy Rizzo—FilmMagic/Getty Images Paulina Vega prior to being crowned Miss Universe at the 63rd Annual Miss Universe Pageant in Miami on Jan. 25, 2015

Newly crowned Paulina Vega has yet to reply to the invitation

Colombian rebels have invited Miss Universe Paulina Vega to attend the group’s ongoing peace talks with the country’s government, according to a statement on its website.

“Be assured that we are willing to address your concerns and consider your views a valuable contribution to peace,” said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC). “We are waiting for your confirmation and your contribution.”

Newly crowned Vega, 22 — a former Miss Colombia — has yet to reply to the invitation, though she had previously expressed interest in seeing a resolution to the conflict between the government and the rebels.

Members of FARC, a leftist group, have been fighting an armed guerrilla battle against Colombian authorities for more than 50 years in a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people. In 2012, leaders of the group began negotiations to resolve the conflict in a still ongoing summit in Havana.

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