FILE - In this June 12, 2019 file photo, former FARC rebel Seuxis Hernandez, also known as Jesus Santrich, flashes a victory sign at journalists as he attends a session of the Chamber of Representatives at the Colombian congress in Bogota, Colombia. Hernandez along with a group of former peace negotiators for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced in a video published Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, that they are taking up arms again following what they considered the failure of conservative President Ivan Duque to guarantee their political rights after the signing of a landmark peace deal. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

Colombia FARC negotiators say they are taking up arms again

August 29, 2019 - 11:49 am

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The top peace negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced Thursday that he and a cadre of hardline supporters are taking up arms again, accusing President Iván Duque of failing to uphold the accord that sought to end a half century of bloody fighting.

In a video published before dawn, Luciano Marin appeared alongside some 20 heavily armed guerrillas dressed in camouflaged fatigues condemning the conservative Duque for standing by idly as hundreds of leftist activists and 150 rebels that have been killed since demobilizing as part of the peace deal.

"When we signed the accord in Havana we did so with the conviction that it was possible to change the life of the most humble and dispossessed," said Marin, better known by his alias Iván Márquez, in the more than 30 minute video. "But the state hasn't fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons."

In the video, Marin, speaking from what he said were Colombia's eastern jungles in the Amazon rainforest, stood alongside several former FARC leaders, including ideologue Seuxis Hernández, alias Jesús Santrich, who abandoned the peace process after the U.S. ordered his arrest on drug charges.

The decision to return to arms angered many Colombians, many of whom believe the FARC benefited from a sweetheart deal.

Patricia Linares, head of the special peace tribunal investigating the FARC's crimes, indicated that magistrates would move quickly to strip the deserting rebels of benefits under the peace deal. Under the accord, rebels who confess their involvement in war crimes like the extortive kidnappings of civilians and recruitment of child soldiers will be spared jail time and protected from extradition to the U.S., which has charged the FARC's top leadership with cocaine trafficking.

"Whoever rearms will be expelled," Linares said.

It's unclear how the decision by Marin to rearm will affect Colombia's delicate security balance. Around 90% of the 7,000 rebels who handed over their weapons to United Nations observers in 2016 continue to live up to their commitments under the peace deal.

But a group of dissident FARC commanders never demobilized and have seen their ranks swell to around 2,500 fighters through recruitment. They continue to terrorize far-flung parts of the country and along Colombia's borders with Venezuela and Ecuador, profiting from drug trafficking and other crimes.

In addition, the more radical National Liberation Army, or ELN, has filled the void left by withdrawing FARC rebels and stepped up attacks in cities, including the car bombing of a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 people.

Marin's move is "better late than never," said an ELN commander in Colombia's western jungle who goes by the alias Uriel. The fighter released a video on social media in which he appeared along a river with his face masked and fist clenched in the air.

Rodrigo Londoño, who had been the FARC's top military commander and now heads its legal political party, immediately distanced himself from his former comrades, with whom relations have been strained in the past year. In an interview with Blu Radio he apologized to his fellow Colombians and the international community, saying that the vast majority of rebels remain committed to the peace process despite rising security risks.

"I have mixed feelings," said Londoño, who is better known by his alias Timochenko. "It's an unfortunate development, but at the same time it leaves things clearer and ends the ambiguity because we had been facing a complex situation for some time."

There was no immediate reaction from Duque. But his peace commissioner, Miguel Ceballos, called for swift action from the peace tribunal while insisting the government would seek the rebel leaders' arrest.

Duque rose to power last year on a law and order platform opposing many aspects of the peace deal. But in office, he's moderated his views and started implementing ambitious aspects of the accord to build roads, schools and other infrastructure in traditionally neglected areas of the country where the state's presence has historically been limited.

But critics, including the architects of the peace deal, have accused him of not doing enough to protect leftist activists and aligning with the U.S. to gut the special peace tribunals whose goal is to foster reconciliation and truth-telling for victims instead of seek full punishment for war atrocities.

"90% of the FARC remain in the peace process. We must continue to fulfill our obligations to them, and repress the deserters with complete force," former President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the nation's armed conflict , said in a message on Twitter. "The battle for peace must not stop!"

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