Tag Archives: FARC

Colombia’s Child Soldiers Say FARC is Family

Carlos, a member of the 51st Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is seen at a camp in Cordillera Oriental, Colombia, August 16, 2016. Picture taken August 16, 2016.  REUTERS/John Vizcaino

Carlos, a member of the 51st Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is seen at a camp in Cordillera Oriental, Colombia, August 16, 2016. Picture taken August 16, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

By Anastasia Moloney 
October, 2016

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The release of scores of child soldiers from Colombia’s FARC rebel group is a top priority, but some are reluctant to leave because they fear an uncertain future away from the insurgents they view as family, a guerrilla commander said.

Victoria Sandino, a commander with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has a seat at the negotiating table where the government and FARC are working to revive a peace accord signed by both sides but narrowly rejected by voters in a referendum earlier this month.

She said children are wary about leaving rebel ranks.

“They don’t want to leave the organization,” Sandino told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Cuba where peace negotiators are gathered.

“One of the reasons they are telling us this is: ‘Well you protected us here during the fighting and the entire period of the war.”

“And now that there’s no fighting, we are expected to leave … the environment we know, the people we know, and our family because the FARC organization is a big family for all of us,” she said.

Last month the FARC released eight child soldiers aged under 15 as part of peace talks.

Sandino said there are no more combatants under 15 in rebel ranks and reiterated the FARC’s commitment to release all its remaining child fighters, mostly aged 16 and 17, despite the referendum result.

But such efforts have been slow, further hampered by uncertainty over the future of the peace accord.

Under the signed peace deal, rebel fighters move to designated areas across Colombia and hand in their weapons.

“There’s a lot of resistance on the part of the other minors under 18 with regards to leaving before we all reincorporate (into civilian life),” Sandino said.

PEACE ACCORD

Government and FARC peace negotiators have been mulling over dozens of proposals this week from representatives of those who voted against the accord as too lenient on the rebels.

The “No” side, led by Alvaro Uribe, a former president and opposition rival, wants rebels who have committed war crimes to be confined for five to eight years – possibly on agricultural farms – and banned from elected office.

They were outraged that the accord offered 10 congressional seats and punishments like clearing landmines instead of jail, in return for ending a five-decade conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced 7 million.

“The spirit of the accord is there, and it will continue and be preserved, but we will and we are trying to collect many of these concerns expressed by many sectors,” Sandino said.

Yet there may be little room for manoeuvre as the FARC have repeatedly refused to consider jail time and want to form a political party, experts say.

And the clock is ticking for negotiators to hammer out a new accord before a government ceasefire – extended a second time by President Juan Manuel Santos – ends on December 31.

RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

Around 11,000 children have been recruited into FARC ranks since 1975, according to Colombia’s attorney general’s office.

Former child combatants have said they voluntarily joined the FARC, many to escape abuse and poverty at home and others because they became orphans as a result of the war.

“They are not prisoners,” Sandino said.

But the FARC have long been accused by human rights groups and the government of forcibly recruiting children, especially from Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups, in jungle areas.

Around 6,000 child soldiers have either deserted or been rescued by state security forces. They had been used as porters, messengers and informants, and trained to fight and plant landmines.

A report earlier this month by the U.N. secretary-general on children and armed conflict said some minors were forced to commit serious crimes while in rebel ranks, including one 12 year-old who was forced to torture and kill his friends.

WOMEN FIGHTERS

Sandino, who holds a journalism degree, left for the jungle to join the FARC when she was 25, motivated by the group’s Marxist ideals, and moved up the ranks to become a commander.

Women make up 40 percent of the FARC’s 7,000-strong fighters and have fought alongside men during combat, she said.

“We have been there shoulder to shoulder with men,” Sandino said.

“As we have contributed in the war, so today we are fully ready and with all our ability and our experience to contribute to peace,” she said.

While peace negotiators revise the deal, fighters are contemplating the chance of going home and being reunited with their sons and daughters many have not seen for years.

With parenthood not an option in the middle of war, most rebel fighters who got pregnant either had an abortion or handed over their babies to relatives or strangers to look after.

Now what is weighing on their minds is whether they can become a part of their child’s life, Sandino said.

“Many of the female guerrillas aren’t thinking ‘Well now I’m out, so I’ll go and pick up my child from a family that helped raise my child’,” Sandino said.

“But rather about how they can expand these family ties so that their son or daughter knows who their mother is.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney, editing by Alex Whiting.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Related on F&O:

What Comes After Colombia’s Peace Deal?   By Annette Idler

What will happen after the  Colombian government and the guerrilla group FARC finalized a peace deal, ending the long-running war?  An official end to war with the FARC is only the start of the road to peace.

Joyful rebels sign ceasefire with Colombian government, by Marc Frank and Carlos Vargas, report

Women hug as they celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Bogota, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/John VizcainoA historic ceasefire deal brought Colombia’s government and leftist FARC rebels close to ending the longest running conflict in the Americas. Capping three years of peace talks in Cuba, it sparked celebrations, and set the stage for a final deal to end a guerrilla war born in the 1960s out of frustration with deep socio-economic inequalities.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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What Comes After Colombia’s Peace Deal?

Cuba's President Raul Castro (C), Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, react after signing a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

This month’s final peace agreement followed a June ceasefire. Above, Cuba’s President Raul Castro (C), Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, react after signing a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

By Annette Idler, University of Oxford
August 27, 2016

The groundbreaking news reached me when I was in Bogotá in a meeting with the head of the Colombian Army: after more than 50 years of armed conflict, and four years of negotiations, the Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla group, the FARC, have reached a final peace agreement. The historic deal looks set to bring to an end the longest running war of recent history. The agreement is cause for huge celebration, but an official end to war with the FARC is only the start of the road to peace.

Securing sustainable peace needs a balance of addressing the immediate security risks during the period of transition, as well as anticipating the long-term challenges that may emerge.

The deal states that the FARC will lay down their arms and make the transition towards being a legally recognised political party. On Monday, 29 August, the definite bilateral ceasefire will start. This will be no easy task for the guerrillas, who began their fight against the state back in the mid-1960s as a leftist group championing the needs of the rural dispossessed. More than 220,000 have been killed in the ensuing conflict which became every time more intertwined with the illicit drug trade, involving not only the FARC, but also other insurgent, paramilitary and criminal groups.

The deal is proof that the government and the FARC are making a huge step forward towards peace in the violence-ridden country. But despite such a momentous agreement, the peace deal, including the proposed 180-day long demobilisation process, is still subject to the approval of the Colombian population. A “yes” or “no” referendum is due to be held on October 2. It is not yet clear cut which side will win.

It might be hard for the casual observer to see why the Colombian people wouldn’t want peace. But both in the large cities and in rural regions some people’s enthusiasm for peace has clashed with the scepticism of others. As a taxi driver in the capital city, Bogotá, put it to me on the morning after the peace deal – how can Colombians be sure that ex-FARC combatants, after a life in the jungle, will be able to reintegrate into civilian life? Will they not use the demobilisation as a pretext to continue life as entrepreneurs of violence, fuelling insecurity in urban areas?

On the other hand, we have to consider that people in marginalised rural regions, who have been hit hardest by the ongoing fighting face huge uncertainty. For generations, their lives have been caught up with the fighting. Without knowing what peace will bring, and whether the situation may deteriorate, they might prefer to maintain the status quo.

Local elites could also jeopardise the process if they stand to lose some of their considerable power as a result of the peace agreements. Any threat to their political or economic position, may give them an incentive to violently deter state interventions.

The government will need to reassure people that voting for peace will produce positive change. Engaging in a dialogue with rural populations on the ground is key. This should go beyond sending messages from Bogotá, and should include the different indigenous languages spoken in Colombia, to show a real commitment to those people.

If “yes” wins the vote and the deal goes ahead prioritising the protection of civilians is critical. In the immediate post-FARC period more violence is possible, as a number of other armed groups –- old and new, leftist and rightist –- fight to take the FARC’s place.

In many parts of the country, third parties are often better placed than the state to fill power vacuums. The leftist ELN group, for example, has assumed governance functions such as the provision of basic services or conflict resolution in regions such as Arauca, in north-west Colombia, for decades, ensuring local support where the state has been absent. Life will be extremely unstable for local people until it becomes clear who the new “ruler” is.

Civilians living in areas where the FARC were previously operating could also be stigmatised as FARC collaborators. Without the FARC’s protection, civilians’ lives are at risk if they are exposed to violence from any of the other armed groups still active in Colombia. Equally, civilians risk punishment by groups other than the FARC for participating in processes perceived to be against their interests, such as the peace deal.

The management of risks to civilian security in the initial transition period is therefore critical to long term stability. To this end, the country’s security apparatus and the United Nations Mission in Colombia are busy preparing the complex process of the FARC’s demobilisation.

The UN is mandated to collect weapons and monitor the disarmament process, to take place in 23 “normalisation zones” and eight camps that the government and the FARC had identified together. In these territories, which are distributed across the country, former FARC combatants will gather to lay down their arms and prepare themselves for reintegration into civilian life.

The normalisation zones will be surrounded and secured by three safety rings. The UN and international observers are in charge of the inner one, the police are charge of the middle one, and the armed forces of the outer ring.

Preventing violence within the zones is of the highest priority. Yet the armed forces will have to be prepared against threats from the outside. These could come from armed groups such as the ELN, or one of the many right-wing and criminal groups involved in the illicit drug trade and other forms of transnational organised crime that plague the country.

Just one unintended shot could have destabilising effects for the entire demobilisation process. Protocols have been put in place to avoid or address even a single soldier’s mistake on the tactical level.

High levels of international attention and the presence of UN observers in the field are likely to deter violent actions in or near to the normalisation zones. However, once the UN leaves and the normalisation zones cease to exist, violence may return.

Unresolved grievances may also fuel acts of retaliation by other armed groups against former combatants. These ex-FARC members will also be vulnerable to recruitment (by force or willingly) by other violent non-state groups. As a result, groups such as the ELN may be strengthened.

After the immediate demobilisation process is over, a reshuffling of participants in illicit activities will produce power struggles over roles in the drug trade, gasoline smuggling, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and other forms of organised crime.

Both ex-guerrillas, and military personnel who may have to leave the armed forces due to budget cuts will now face the difficulties of a transition into civilian life. Reintegration programmes are crucial not only for former combatants but also for those who have served their country for years.

Securing peace therefore requires the coordination of all security-related government institutions across ministries, in partnership with the UN, and in line with the protection needs of civilians. This joint effort can boost confidence in tackling both immediate and long-term security challenges, paving the way for the Colombian people to vote “yes” to peace.

~~~The Conversation

idlerannette-picture2Annette Idler is Director of Studies at the Changing Character of War Programme, Pembroke College, and Research Associate at the Department of Politics and International Relations,  University of Oxford

She is also Research Associate at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, Graduate Institute Geneva, and holds a doctorate from the Department of International Development and St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford.

Her previous research included extensive fieldwork in the war-torn and crisis-affected borderlands of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, analysing the relationships among rebels, criminals and paramilitary groups and exploring their impact on citizen security.

Her interests as an academic, consultant and practitioner lie at the interface of conflict, security and transnational organised crime, especially drug trafficking as well as terrorism, peace building and governance. She is particularly fascinating by the role that violent non-state groups play in these dynamics.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Joyful rebels sign ceasefire with Colombian government

Women hug as they celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Bogota, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

Women hug as they celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Bogota, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

By Marc Frank and Carlos Vargas
June 23, 2016

HAVANA/BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s government and leftist FARC rebels signed a historic ceasefire deal on June 23, that brought them tantalisingly close to ending the longest running conflict in the Americas.

The accord, capping three years of peace talks in Cuba, sparked celebrations and tears of happiness among some in the Colombian capital. It sets the stage for a final deal to end a guerrilla war born in the 1960s out of frustration with deep socio-economic inequalities that outlived all other major uprisings in Latin America.

People celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

People celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

“May this be the last day of the war,” said bearded FARC commander Rodrigo Londono, better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, his voice choked, after shaking hands with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at a ceremony in Havana.

Santos, 64, is half-way through his second term and has staked his legacy on peace in the face of opposition from sectors of the country who think the FARC should be crushed militarily.

“This means nothing more and nothing less than the end of the FARC as an armed group,” Santos said, adding that the final peace deal would be signed in Colombia. “The children and youth of our country have never known a single day without the violence of the conflict. Neither have the adults.”

In Colombia, even before Santos spoke, church bells pealed at noon to mark the start of the signing. Crowds in Bogota, the capital, gathered around giant TV screens set up in the streets, dancing, cheering and clapping as the ceremony unfolded.

One placard read, “we’ve finished the war, now let’s build peace.”

About 1,000 people gathered in the Plaza Bolivar, the city’s main square, to celebrate despite rain. Some waved flags and balloons, others hugged and wiped their eyes.

“I’m 76 and have lived this war all my life – I never thought the time would come when these characters would sign peace. I’m so happy – I can die in peace,” said Graciela Pataquiva, a retired teacher, crying as she spoke.

Santos’ government says a final deal, which he said will be ready by July 20, would add one percentage point annually to economic growth in Colombia, which over the past two decades has turned itself around from a failing state to an emerging market darling.

Thursday’s agreement went further than many had hoped, with the FARC committing to putting a final accord to the Colombian people in a plebiscite, a promise made by Santos that had been a key sticking point.

Not everybody supports the peace process, and Santos will have to work hard to convince opponents to back it in a referendum.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, the leading critic of the talks, said the agreement was “a surrender to terrorism” by Santos.

Under the agreement read out by mediators Norway and Cuba, the rebels will lay down their arms within 180 days of a final accord and demobilize into 23 temporary zones and eight camps. The ceasefire will only kick in when the final deal is agreed, although the two sides effectively stopped attacks almost a year ago and violence is already at historic lows.

During their transition to democratic politics, the FARC’s weapons will be handed over to the United Nations, which will begin a mission to verify the ceasefire.

The government will guarantee the safety of ex-rebels and their political allies, who have historically been targets for right-wing paramilitary groups, the accord said. Special protection units, comprised of both ex-rebels and security forces, will guard FARC politicians and other community leaders.

Under accords already struck in Cuba, perpetrators of the worst crimes in the war will face “transitional justice” aimed more at finding out the historical truth than meting out harsh punishments.

“This is an extraordinary achievement. But there are serious challenges ahead related to security, implementation and guarantees of no repetition,” said Roddy Brett, director of peace and conflict studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono (3rd L) better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, shakes hands as Cuba's president Raul Castro (2nd R) Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd L) and Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende (R) look on after signing a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono (3rd L) better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, shakes hands as Cuba’s president Raul Castro (2nd R) Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd L) and Norway’s Foreign Minister Borge Brende (R) look on after signing a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

“WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS?”

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was one of many 20th century Latin American guerrilla movements inspired by Marxist ideology and the success of the 1959 Cuban revolution. Its conflict began an as a peasant revolt before exploding into a war that killed at least 220,000 and displaced millions.

Across the region, other rebellions were either crushed by right-wing military governments or convinced to lay down their arms and join conventional politics by the 1990s. But funded by its involvement in the cocaine industry, the FARC grew to a 17,000 strong force operating across vast swaths of territory. Kidnappings for ransom also helped bankroll the rebel group.

That began to change in 2002, when Uribe launched a U.S.-backed counterinsurgency campaign that killed many FARC leaders and reduced it to an estimated 7,000 fighters.

Even after peace with the FARC, formidable obstacles will remain. The smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) only recently said it would start talks, while gangs born out of right-wing paramilitary groups have taken over drug trafficking routes, filling the vacuum left by rebels, some say.

“It’s great to end the war with the FARC, but we’ve got to be serious, we finish with the FARC but what about all the others?” said Jhon Duarte, a 26-year old mechanic, echoing the concerns of many Colombians.

Despite the challenges and the opposition from some quarters to letting FARC rebels re-enter society after years of kidnapping and attacks across the country, the mood on Thursday was buoyant.

“This is a beacon of hope, our children will be able to enjoy what we could not – a childhood of peace and a life in peace,” said Adriana Beltrán, a 25-year-old housewife in Bogota.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta in Havana and by Luis Jaime Acosta and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)
~~~

Below are some highlights of the accord between Colombia’s government and FARC rebels:

A man celebrates the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016. The sign reads "RIP the War in Colombia 1964 - 2016".  REUTERS/Fredy Builes

A man celebrates the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016. The sign reads “RIP the War in Colombia 1964 – 2016”. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

* DEFINITIVE BILATERAL CEASEFIRE

Both sides commit to democratic values and agree not to use weapons for political ends. The ceasefire will be effective once a final peace deal is signed.

* DEMOBILISATON AREAS

The government and FARC will establish 23 transition zones and eight camps where rebels will demobilize and begin the process of returning to civilian life.

Teams led by the United Nations, including government and FARC representatives, will monitor the demobilization.

Police and other armed officials will only be allowed into the transition zones in coordination with the monitoring teams. No civilians are allowed into the FARC camps.

* SURRENDERING ARMS

FARC rebels must hand over their weapons to United Nations officials within 180 days of the signing of the final deal. The weapons will be stored in secure containers monitored by the U.N. before being broken down and used for the construction of three memorial monuments.

* GUARANTEEING FARC SAFETY

The government will guarantee the safety of ex-rebels and their political allies, who have historically been targets for right-wing paramilitary groups.

A special investigation unit will be created within the prosecutors’ office to focus on rooting out criminal gangs born out of right-wing paramilitary groups. This unit will have its own elite police force.

Special protection units, comprised of both ex-rebels and security forces, will guard FARC politicians and other community leaders.

* REFERENDUM

During talks on the ceasefire deal, the FARC accepted putting a final deal to a plebiscite, a promise made by President Juan Manual Santos that had been a key sticking point. The FARC accepted the referendum on the condition it is sanctioned by Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Tom Brown)

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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