Colombia’s largest Marxist rebel group, the FARC, has expelled its First Front from the guerrilla organization after leaders of the fighters unit publicly stated they do not support a pending peace deal with the government.
Weeks after the guerrilla group’s leadership and the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos agreed to a bilateral ceasefire, the first Front publicly reiterated it would not take part in the group’s demobilization.
“We have decided not to demobilize. We will continue our struggle to take power for the people, independent of the decision of the rest of the fighters or the guerrilla organization. We respect the decision of those who desist the armed struggle, abandon their weapons and reintegrate into civil society, we do not consider them our enemies.”
FARC’s 1st Front
In response, the leadership of the FARC’s Jorge Briceño Bloc said the unit had broken internal rules is no longer allowed to operate in the name of the national guerrilla organization or use its resources.
“If the involved commanders and fighters wish to throw themselves onto an uncertain adventure, they must do so under a different name than the true structures of the FARC-EP. By doing so, they would stop creating confusion.”
FARC’s Jorge Briceño Bloc
According to the FARC leadership, the 1st Front “appeals to political and ideological arguments to hide the evident influence of economic interests that oppose the end of the conflict.”
The unit controls one of the country’s largest coca cultivation areas of Colombia and exercises control over parts of the trafficking routes to Venezuela and Brazil.
The unit consists of between 60 and 400 men and is most famous for holding three American military contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt hostage for years.
With the removal of the dissident unit from the FARC, it is automatically exluded from the bilateral ceasefire and could be attacked by government forces if it carries out either military or criminal action.
The FARC’s resolute removal of the dissident force sends a strong signal to other units that resist the pending demobilization and disarmament.
Analysts have expressed concerns about other units with close ties to drug trafficking.
If units decide not to demobilize within the period agreed with the government in the event of a peace deal, the army and the air force could carry out military offensives taregting the groups.
A final peace deal with the FARC is expected within weeks as negotiators in Cuba are finalizing talks that began in November 2012.
The FARC’s demobilization and integration to politics would mean the end to more than half a century of violence between the group and the Colombian state.