The World Council of Churches has raised concerns over the future of Colombia's peace process following the recent killings of two community leaders, among the latest in a wave of assassinations that has occurred in the country this year.

Belisario Arciniegas García, a farmer and candidate in local elections, and Wilmar Carvajalino, a driver who was part of an organisation of miners and farmers advocating for greater rights, were killed in Micoahumado on the 7th and 10th May respectively, reportedly by members of the National Liberation Army (ELN). They are just two of a wave of killings in Colombia with an estimated 75 community leaders and human rights defenders assassinated already this year.

Frank Chikane

Rev Frank Chikane addresses leaders of the community of Micoahumado in February, 2018. PICTURE: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

While a 2016 peace agreement was reached between the Colombia Government and the guerilla group FARC in 2016, peace negotiations with ELN broke down in January this year.

Rev Frank Chikane, moderator of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, said the organisation expressed its "deepest concern with regard to the search for peace in Colombia" and called upon the Colombian Government and all armed groups to "refrain from targeting social leaders and communities in conflict zones".

Chikane, a former leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, called on the UN mission in the country to send a team to the region where the killings occurred.

Peter Prove, the WCC's director for international affairs who accompanied Chikane on a visit to the village of Micoahumado early last year, said the people of the village "are being threatened and attacked by both the Colombian army and the ELN".

"That has been all too often the position in which local communities and their leaders find themselves in the midst of Colombia’s conflict, victimised by both sides,” he said. “The Colombian army and all armed groups must stop the killing of social leaders and human rights defenders, and protect the Colombian people from violence and violation of their human rights.”

The UK-based Catholic agency CAFOD - which supports work in the region where the killings took place - has also called for more protection for community leaders in Colombia.

"Colombia is one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a human rights or land defender - and, despite the ongoing peace process, the threats and killings of human rights defenders are increasing," said Uli Beck, CAFOD's Colombia program officer.

"Colombia's community leaders are fighting for the rights of local people and trying to make peace a reality and if these killings and threats continue to be overlooked, it sends a strong message that the peace process is at serious risk."

Beck said that as well as conducting an "impartial investigation into those responsible for the killings, local authorities must work to establish effective measures to protect those who are at risk".

"The protection of Colombia's rural and remote communities, which would include an increased presence of State institutions in remote areas, is urgently needed if the peace process - which was sorely fought for - is to be successful."