Rebel group FARC on Thursday recognized its responsibility for the 2002 Bojaya massacre in western Colombia and asked forgiveness to the inhabitants of the town and the families of at least 79 locals who died in the attack.
At a press conference in Havana, where Colombia’s largest guerrilla organization is negotiating peace with the country’s government, FARC negotiator “Pablo Catatumbo” expressed his group’s regret over one of the most traumatizing events in the 50 years of armed conflict between the rebels and the state.
The mass killing took place on May 2, 2002 in Bojaya, a township in the jungles of the Pacific Choco state, after a guerrilla projectile killed at least 79 of approximately 300 innocent civilians who were hiding from combat between the FARC and rival paramilitary group AUC.
FARC ’caused misery and misfortune’
“As already has been told directly by the victimized communities there was this fatal moment, on May 2, 2002, during which the deviation of a handmade projectile away from the main paramilitary position in the village caused misery and misfortune when landing on the Catholic church where the population who hadn’t been able to flee was hiding,” Catatumbo said.
The FARC commander expressed his remorse, adding that “declaring this today does not repair the irreparable, it does not return any of the people who died, nor undoes the suffering caused to so many families, a suffering of which we are aware and hopefully will be forgiven.”
Bojaya representative talks back
The statement was made in the presence of victim representatives from Bojaya, a town that was virtually abandoned after the traumatic event.
Bojaya native Leyner Palacios told the press how the “population was in panic” after the paramilitary incursion and subsequent guerrilla attack.
Palacios confirmed the FARC was responsible for “launching the ‘pipeta’,” but that additional responsibility should be assumed by the paramilitaries “for using the population as a human shield” and the state for “ignoring the alerts and its collusion with the paramilitary forces.”
The Choco delegate told the FARC representatives he would deliver the rebels’ apologies to the town, but reminded the rebels that “the forgiveness needs to come individually from each victim, from each survivor.”
Additionally, Palacios said “the FARC much show concrete actions that show their constraint over this,” claiming the armed conflict is causing “an ongoing victimization of our communities.”
Video: FARC EP
FARC willing to make reparation
Catatumbo said the rebel group was “considering — depending on our capacities, possibilities and obligations — the most comprehensive response possible to meet our debt with the people of Bojaya.”
According to the rebel commander, these responses will contain “restorative and transformative actions to be implemented together with the victimized communities.”
Seven million victims to go
Thursday’s emotional meeting took place as part of ongoing encounters between representatives of Colombia’s approximately 7 million war victims, the FARC and the government.
The administration of President Juan Manuel Santos began peace talks with the country’s largest guerrilla group in 2012 and are currently negotiating who is responsible for the mass victimization that left 900 thousand Colombians dead and another six million homeless.
In June, after having agreed on the guerrillas’ eventual political participation, a rural reform, and drug trafficking, the FARC and the government jointly admitted their responsibility for the ongoing victimization as neither party agreed to a bilateral ceasefire, and other, smaller armed actors are active across the country.
A day before the public apology for the Bojaya massacre, the FARC announced a unilateral ceasefire for Saturday on the condition that international organizations would be in charge of monitoring the guerrillas’ commitment to their vow and the government’s restraint in attacking guerrilla structures.
The president responded saying the government “appreciates” the gesture, but rejected the condition of foreign observers and said “the government will continue to comply with it undeniable constitutional duty to guarantee and protect the rights of Colombians,” leaving in the middle whether the military would carry out offensives.
The government has categorically rejected a bilateral ceasefire and has insisted that a peace deal is signed first. Victims have repeatedly urged both parties to end hostilities for the duration of the talks.