Local engagement with armed groups in the midst of violence




Haspeslagh, Sophia (ed.)
Yousuf, Zahbia (ed.)

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Conciliation Resources


This report moves beyond the question of whether or not to engage in dialogue with an armed group and explores the spaces in which armed groups operate and their relationships with the people who live there. While local populations are not just passive actors in conflict zones, simply coerced by armed actors, it is equally true that armed groups do not merely exploit or abuse communities in areas in which they operate. Three in-depth case studies from Colombia, northern Uganda and Syria, as well as a shorter analysis from Northern Ireland, illustrate how communities have tried to influence the behavior of armed groups away from violence, and the factors that have affected their interactions – most of which took place in advance of more formal negotiations and often in situations of intense violence and embedded conflict. These local “spaces in between” fighting and talking shed light on the possibilities for more upstream engagement with armed groups and the variety of peace efforts involved in shaping their decisions. The case studies illustrate that reaching out to armed groups does not have to legitimate their tactics or even ambitions. They also show how active community engagement with armed groups can make an important contribution to local human security and peacebuilding. The experiences documented confirm that local peace actors face huge security risks – unprotected by diplomatic immunity or the security of the state. Armed groups often have a blatant disregard for civilian security, or worse, purposefully target populations. Local populations also face security threats from the state, which often views communities close to armed groups as complicit. Active contact by a community with an armed group risks exacerbating perceptions of association.



Dialogue, Armed Non-state Actors, Uganda, Syria, Colombia, Northern Ireland