The leader of Colombia’s Marxist FARC rebel group said on Thursday all the group’s weapons will be handed over to the United Nations by June 20 as planned, part of a peace deal to end more than 52 years of war.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) need to give up the last 60 percent of their arms, as agreed last year with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. Nearly 40 percent of their arms were handed over by Tuesday.
“We have taken the political decision. We respect the agreement and we will implement it, whatever it takes,” FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, also known as “Timochenko,” told Reuters.
Under the accord, rejected in a public referendum but pushed through by congress, the FARC will become a political party and most fighters will receive an amnesty after explaining their actions publicly.
Londoño said the FARC were discussing internally the name of their future political party, which could be ultimately decided at a FARC congress in August.
“We are working with the date of August, the middle or the end of August. It could also be the beginning of September,” he said, declining to say which options for names were on the table.
“The Congress will decide all these things … democratically,” he said.
Londoño was speaking after discussing the peace process together with Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, in a rare joint public appearance outside Colombia by a member of the government and a FARC leader.
Asked on stage by Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende to describe some of the more personal moments of the talks, Londoño recalled the time he sustained a heart attack in the middle of negotiations in Havana and was “resuscitated by Cuban doctors”.
“Afterwards I received a personal card from President Santos wishing me well. It meant a lot to me,” Londoño, visibly moved, told the audience.
At the very beginning of the process, FARC leaders had difficulty discussing among themselves whether to participate in the process, he said.
“We could not talk on the radio. We could get killed just to talk on the radio. We could not meet to discuss,” said Londoño.
On the main stumbling blocks were for the peace process, the Colombian foreign minister said that the key was for Colombian farmers to feel they would be better off cultivating legal crops rather than coca, the crop used to produce cocaine.
“We must be able to give farmers the possibility of earning a living legally, instead of cultivating coca. We must substitute crops and remove the landmines,” said Holguin.
Colombia ranks second after Afghanistan on the list of countries with the most landmines, according to the NGO International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
“We are in a very difficult phase. Applying the accord is often more complicated than doing the deal in the first place,” she said.
Asked the same question, Londono said that reintegrating guerrilla fighters in society was key. Also, “we must remove violence from the exercise of politics,” he said.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Tom Heneghan)