SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Growing violence in the southwest of Colombia has been spreading fear in the region of Cali, the third largest city in the South American country.

Despite the complexity of the current situation – often involving terrorist attacks by guerrilla groups – the Church keeps alerting the actors involved in the problem that peace can only be found through dialogue and mutual understanding.

The most recent wave of disturbances began last week, when a dissident group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) called the Estado Mayor Central (EMC or Central Military Staff) launched an offensive against the security forces.

The first attack occurred in Jamundí, only 15 miles away from Cali. The guerrilla organization used a motorcycle to bomb a building where recently recruited policemen were staying. Two of them were injured, along with four civilians.

In Morales, 75 miles south of Cali, the insurgents partially dominated the city for a few hours. They shot at a police station, killing two agents and a detainee, and robbed a bank.

Other violence happened in nearby cities like Jambaló and Suárez.

The EMC is one of the FARC’s dissident forces currently operating in Colombia. The FARC signed a peace deal with the Colombian state in 2016, disbanded, and became a regular political party. But a number of dissident groups have taken a different way.

“Some factions never accepted the peace process and kept their armed activities. Others signed the peace agreement but later betrayed it,” Diego Arias, a member of the Institute for the Building of Peace (Ficonpaz), told Crux.

Ficonpaz was created in 1996 as an organization of the Archdiocese of Bogotá with the goal of promoting a culture of peace among communities and social movements. Its director, Father Hector Henao, is a long-time Church delegate to peace negotiations in Colombia.

Arias is in charge of giving support to Church peace initiatives funded by international organizations. He travels all over the southwestern part of Colombia to strengthen communities and empower their leaders in the process of struggling against violence.

“During the peace talks with the FARC, everybody knew that the State should rehabilitate the zones which were most impacted by the guerrilla in order to avoid the emergence of new armed actors. But that was exactly what happened,” Arias said.

He added that the Colombian government failed to ensure that the former combatants would be safe. Over the past years, several of them ended up being killed in local disputes.

“Investigations have shown that most of the people responsible for such deaths were the victims’ former colleagues in the guerrilla,” Arias explained.

In the regions of Cauca and Cauca valley, such organizations have been involved in drug trafficking, illegal mining, and other criminal activities, he added.

“After the internal divisions that occurred during the peace talks, the government announced that the EMC would be fought by the military, given that it didn’t want to engage in the negotiation,” Father Diego Guzman, in charge of Cali’s vicariate for the service to integral human development, told Crux.

According to Arias, the current attacks are a reaction to the State’s military offensive, and Guzman said community leaders who somehow oppose the guerrillas’ operations have been killed over the past months.

The violence has been constantly forcing people to leave their original territories and move to other areas.

“The Church struggles in order to be present in such communities and give its support to the displaced people and other victims of the conflict,” Guzman said.

Church members haven’t been directly attacked yet, but they have to deal with the consequences of the guerrillas’ presence.

“Some vicars of parishes located in cities like Jamundí tell us about the enormous tension they face due to the control of such organizations over the entire territory,” Guzman added.

Arias said that such groups still have some respect for the Church’s work, so clergy members tend to be safe.

On May 21, after the terrorist attacks, Archbishop Luis Fernando Rodriguez of Cali issued a statement in which he called for “the respect to human life and dignity and for the search for solutions that can help us to live together in peace and fraternity.”

“We’re worried about the sentiment of frustration, of fear, of distrust, and of despair among many in the population, and we ask to the federal, regional, and local governments concrete action in order to solve the serious problems that we have, which are also a cause for the general and institutional instability that can be perceived,” the letter read.

Guzman said that after so many attacks it’s difficult to create “spaces of confidence in which a dialogue can be established between the different actors in the problem.”

“But we’ll keep working to put all those groups and communities near each other and make them discuss their issues. Negotiations are the only way out of such a crisis,” the priest told Crux.