Indigenous role seen in FARC demobilization

Amid controversial proposals for a "demobilization zone" where FARC fighters could gather before laying down arms under a pending peace accord, leaders of Colombia's indigenous peoples have volunteered to have their autonomous authorities oversee the process. Legislative deputy Germán Bernardo Carlosama López, representing the indigenous district of Gran Mallama, Nariño department, last week sent a letter to Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo posing indigenous authorities as a neutral force that could secure the demobilization zones. He stated: "The FARC have made clear that it is not prudent that members of the Public Force be resposible for guaranteeing the security of these possible zones; therefore, the experience and wisdom that characterizes the Indigenous Guard, with its example of dignified defense of human rights and model of peaceful resistance, could open and pave the way for this momentous process." A contingent of indigenous leaders has traveled to Havana, Cuba, to discuss the idea with negotiators. (El Espectador, Feb. 25)

Speaking to right-wing fears of territory being turned over to the FARC, Cristo assured: "We are not going to tolerate a Caguán, nor even a Ralito." (El Tiempo, March 1) This is a reference to San Vicente del Caguán municipality in Caquetá department, which was under FARC control as a "demilitarized zone" between 1998 and 2002 as part of a failed peace process; and Santa Fe de Ralito in Córdoba, where the AUC paramilitary network gathered for official demobilization between 2004 and 2006. 

Much controvery surrounds the Feb. 18 visit by FARC leaders to the hamlet of Conejo in Fonseca, La Guajira department. FARC chief negotiator Iván Márquez and other guerilla leaders arrived at Conjeo in a Red Cross helicopter, ostensibly to participate in a community event to discuss the peace accords. Opponents of the peace process—most prominently ex-president Alvaro Uribe—protested that this violated a prohibition on FARC contact with the public under terms of the talks. They also decried the apparent presence of armed FARC fighters at the event. (El Tiempo, Feb. 24; El Tiempo, Feb. 20; El Espectador, Feb. 19) The FARC responded in a communique that the protocols established for the talks only bar them from political "proselytism," not all contact with the public. (El Tiempo, Feb. 22)

Celina Realuyo, US State Department advisor to the Colombian Defense Ministry, contributed to the fears by raising the prospect of "Farcrim"—a play on the term Bacrim, government shorthand for "criminal bands," the bureaucratic designation for remnant paramilitary forces that have refused demobilization. (El Espectador, Feb. 29)

Child solider recruitment continues?
There is also controvery around FARC recruitment of child soldiers, which may continue depsite a formal renounciation of the practice. Last week, the Defensoría del Pueblo, Colombia's official human rights office, reported that a 15-year-old youth who had been recruited by the FARC was returned to his family under a process overseen by the Red Cross and Catholic church at Puerto Rondón, Arauca. The government's Colombian Institute for Family Well-being (ICBF) reports that last year it gave assistance to a total of 631 children and adolescents who had been recruited by illegal armed groups. (El Tiempo, Feb. 22)

Imprisoned FARC fighters on hunger strike
The Feb. 5 death of Jhon Jairo Moreno Hernández, an imprisoned FARC fighter at a hospital in San Jorge, Risaralda, sparked a hunger strike by prisoners at facilities across the country, who charge harsh conditions and inadequate medical care. There are now some 350 imprisoned FARC fighters who have joined the strike. This is the second such action since November, when imprisoned FARC combatants in 15 prisons went on strike to demand the release of those prisoners with severe health conditions. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 27; Justice for Colombia, Feb. 12; Paz-FARC, Feb. 6) There have been other such prison hunger strikes by FARC adherents in recent years.

Bloody legacy of conflict
Investigations into the horrific human costs of Colombia's long conflict are ongoing. The Fiscalía, Colombia's judicial body, announced Feb. 26 that it had concluded exhumation of a mass grave containing 66 sets of human remains at a site in La Macarena, Meta department, an area that has seen much fighting over the past generation. Local residents say they believe some 400 have been buried in mass graves in the area. (El Tiempo, Feb. 26)

Meanwhile, Aida Avella Esquivel, president of the revived left-wing Patriotic Union party, protested the ruling of Colombia's Supreme Court of Justice that overturned a finding a lower court, the Medellín Supreior Tribunal, that the campaign of terror that effectively destroyed her party constituted "genocide." (Prensa Rural, March 1) The FARC, which joined with other left groups to form the party in the 1980s, has termed its supression a "political genocide," with thousands of party followers killed.