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Local engagement with armed groups: in the midst of violence

Pioneers of peace talks with armed groups are often figures from communities affected by violence. 

Michael Semple, Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, Queen’s University Belfast. 

This second Insight publication in the Accord series looks at the interactions between armed groups and local populations. Case studies from Colombia, northern Uganda, Syria and Northern Ireland document the experiences of communities who have organised to influence the behaviour of armed groups ­– often in advance of more formal negotiations and in situations of intense violence and embedded conflict. 

Despite political negotiations with the Irish Republican Army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Afghan Taliban, governments are often still reluctant to allow space for dialogue with armed groups and there is limited understanding of how to reach and influence them constructively.

While states are weighing up whether and how to engage, populations living alongside armed groups may already be in contact. 

Sophie Haspeslagh, Accord Insight Specialist Editor 

This Accord Insight builds on Accord 16 (2005), Choosing to engage: armed groups and peace processes, which explored how and why non-violent engagement with armed groups can and should happen.

Accord Insight presents cutting-edge analysis and contemporary peacebuilding innovation by re-examining learning from the Accord series.

Local populations are not just passive actors in conflict zones, simply coerced by armed actors. Equally, armed groups do not merely exploit or abuse communities in areas in which they operate. 

Zahbia Yousuf, Peacebuilding editor and analyst, Conciliation Resources

Local actors face huge risks to speak to groups apparently set on violence, and demonstrate resilience and innovation to try to influence them. Active community engagement with armed actors can make important contributions to local human security and peacebuilding, including the broader transformation of armed groups. It can offer alternative and complementary approaches to top-down official peacemaking efforts.

As the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year, it is important not to lose sight of the significant roles played by unarmed, non-state actors to develop structures for promoting local security and peace. 

Wisam Elhamoui and Sinan al-Hawat, Syrian civil society activists and researchers 


Une version francaise de ce numero d'Accord Insight est disponible ici.


An initial joint analysis workshop was held on 1 November 2013. Read Accord Insight II issue editor Sophie Haspeslagh's report here.