FARC guerrilla delegates traveled to a small town in the west of Colombia to personally ask the locals forgiveness for a 2002 massacre that killed approximately 80 of the town’s inhabitants.
The FARC, represented by among others rebels commander “Pastor Alape,” took part in a ceremony with the inhabitants of Bojaya, Choco where guerrillas’ launched a handmade projectile on a church while trying to target paramilitaries they were combating at the time.
The paramilitary AUC was carrying out an expansion offensive in the area and clashed with the FARC in the town in spite the presence of hundreds of civilians.
The paramilitaries hid close to the church after which the FARC launched the explosive, effectively committing one of the worst war crimes in the organization’s history.
Instead of hitting their paramilitary enemies, the projectile exploded inside the church, killing approximately 80 of the town’s 300 inhabitants who were trying to hide from the fighting.
Alape, also a member of the FARC’s negotiation team at ongoing peace talks in Cuba, personally asked forgiveness to the town’s inhabitants, stressing that “there never was the intention to harm the civilian population and less the elderly and children who died in this dreaded attack.”
The FARC representative, who was accompanied by other guerrillas and members of the Red Cross, promised the locals that his guerrilla group will “compensate the damage done and repair the victims of these acts, as well as not ever repeat situations like this.”
The privately made apology followed a public apology made around this time last year, just after the beginning of negotiations on what to do with the 7 million victims generated by the armed conflict.
At the public apology, FARC commander “Pablo Catatumbo” said that asking forgiveness “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.”
While the FARC now have apologized twice for one of the most tragic events in the 51-year-long history of the armed conflict, locals are still waiting for the government to do the same.
According to Colombia’s council of state, the government must also ask forgiveness for abandoning the region and allowing state-aligned paramilitary death squads to carry out a violent territorial expansion.
According to the court ruling, then-President Andres Pastrana, must also travel to the town and together with the then-military command ask forgiveness for their own responsibility for the massacre.
The court also ordered Congress to open a criminal investigation against Pastrana and the military leadership to find out if the former head of state’s negligence in protecting the civilian population was a criminal act.
The AUC, demobilized between 2003 and 2006, have not apologized for the massacre. Their local commander at the time, however, did meet with Bojaya’s priest after his release from prison in September to personally ask forgiveness for his responsibility in the massacre.