Some of Colombia’s demobilizing FARC rebels will train as bodyguards to prevent fellow guerrillas from attacks as they begin reintegration into society through the country’s peace process.
The 305 ex-combatants will receive up to two months training, and be given a gun along with pay of up to $615 per month — three times the minimum wage.
The Interior Minister confirmed that the candidates arrived at a training academy in the town of Facatativa, near the capital Bogota, where they will undergo a series of physical, psychological and emotional tests to examine their aptitude for the job.
Those who do not pass the tests and reach the requirements will be sent back to their demobilization camps confirmed Diego Mora, director of the National Protection Unit (UNP).
“We are not training or recruiting anyone. We are starting a selection and training program, because not all the (ex-guerrillas) who arrive will have the skills to be bodyguards,” said Mora.
“As we move forward, those who are fit will continue in the process and become potential bodyguards,” he added.
Critics say members of the Farc, who were engaged in half-century of armed conflict with the Colombian state, should not be allowed to carry guns legally, much less be paid by the government to do so.
Proponents say the positions will be open to those former rebels who have handed in their weapons as part of the disarmament process and have not committed crimes against humanity during the armed conflict.
The work of the group will be led and overseen by the UNP and the police. The program aims to provide protection to guerrillas who are laying down weapons andre-entering society as part of a peace deal signed with the Colombian government last November.
With a recent spate of killings and attacks against community leaders and human rights activists, the provision of security for demobilizing guerrillas will be crucial regarding the successful implementation of the peace accord.
The left-wing rebels fear that once the FARC has demobilized, right-wing illegal armed groups will target reintegrating rebel fighters like they did in the 1980s and 90s when thousands of leftist political activists and politicians were assassinated in what effectively ended the FARC’s first attempt to enter politics.
When in 1985 President Belisario Betancur of the Conservative Party began peace talks with the FARC and allowed the guerrillas to join unarmed leftist groups to form the Patriotic Union (UP) political party, paramilitary groups — with continued help from the military — began a political extermination campaign not seen since “La Violencia” in the 1940s and 50s.
By 1994 more than 3,000 supporters and leaders of the UP had been killed, the party was virtually eliminated and the FARC was left more radicalized than ever.
Already, a trend has emerged that has seen right-wing drug-trafficking paramilitary groups move into territory formally occupied by the FARC with peasant farmers receiving threats about participation in crop restitution programs that aim to replace illicit crops with legal ones.
According to the FARC, these groups can still count on a high level of tolerance from the security forces across the country, leaving a major security risk for the FARC’s demobilizing fighters and unarmed leftist groups opposing Colombia’s mainstream political forces.