Some 300 guerrillas have deserted the FARC since the rejection of an initial peace deal with the Marxist rebel group in an October 2 referendum, reported newspaper El Tiempo on Thursday.
According to the newspaper, the mass desertion occurred in two of 26 provisional pre-demobilization camps that had been set up to shelter the demobilizing guerrillas after the shock vote nullified the peace deal signed days before.
While the government, opposition sectors and the FARC renegotiated the peace deal, the United Nations set up the provisional camps to prevent violent clashes with rival armed groups, ceasefire breaches and the desertion of guerrillas who lost confidence in the process.
The 300 rebels are reported to have deserted from sites in Barranco Colorado and San Miguel, Guaviare, raising concerns that many more rebels may too have fallen into dissident ranks from the remaining 24 pre-grouping camps.
The rejection of the first peace accord spurred major uncertainty among the guerrillas, whose legal future had suddenly become an item of renewed negotiations.
The negotiations were successfully closed on November 24, but the unexpected renegotiation period had disrupted the implementation of the peace deal to such an extent that FARC guerrillas are still not inside the demobilization camps.
“The FARC had calculated that by November 1 all guerrillas were going to be in the demobilization areas. The defeat in the October 2 plebiscite delayed everything,” conflict analyst Ariel Avila told BBC News.
Additionally, said Avila, among rank and file FARC guerrillas exist “many fears of betrayal, that they will be captured or extradited.”
The report of the mass desertion comes just days after the FARC confirmed that one of its leaders and four mid-level unit commanders have been removed from the organization for refusing to demobilize and disarm.
These included high profile leaders “Gentil Duarte” and “John 40” who, according to El Tiempo, joined the AGC, a.k.a. “Los Urabeños,” the primary successor group of the officially demobilized paramilitary group AUC.
On Wednesday, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas reiterated his warning to FARC deserters that Colombia’s armed forces will be on their tail.
“Those who declare themselves in dissent from the FARC or simply become bandits because of the ambition of money, gold and dollars are high-value targets, we will persecute them,” said Villegas at a press conference.
The FARC is Colombia’s largest and oldest Marxist rebel group. Its effective disarmament and transition to mainstream politics should further normalize the country after decades-long and drug-fueled political violence.
The group’s approximately 6,600 guerrilla fighters and 10,000 militia members should be detained inside the formal demobilization camps before December 31.
The group’s entire demobilization, disarmament and reintegration is due to be completed before April 30 next year.