Colombia’s largest rebel group, the FARC, indicated it is willing to reach a compromise regarding its longstanding use of hidden explosives.
FARC units regularly cover their movements and guard campsites using buried landmines, a strategy that has led Colombia to the highest incident rate of landmine explosions in the world. A report released by the UN Mine Action Services earlier this week found 368 victims of landmines in 2013, including 49 deaths.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Ivan Marquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator in ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government, said, “We are willing to reach an agreement in regards to the general use of explosives.”
Marquez made the statement prior to the start of the 23 round of negotiations with the government Friday, after being asked if the FARC would be willing to stop using antipersonnel mines.
According to official data, antipersonnel mines have killed at least 2,000 people since 1990, and wounded thousands more.
During a press conference at the global Mine Ban Convention in Medellin on Thursday, Colombian Vice-President Angelino Garzon told Colombia Reports, ”Anti-personnel mines are still being planted by Colombia’s [rebel groups] FARC and ELN guerrillas. I believe that it is the duty of the guerrillas to stop planting landmines, and to facilitate demining in rural areas in cooperation with the Colombian government and the international community.”
A representative of the United Nations’ Human Rights Office in Colombia also called on the FARC to abandon its use of land mines, as a way of proving its commitment to the peace process.
Marquez, however, made sure to point out that Colombia’s military was also responsible for the widespread use of mines, a practice independent sources claimed ended around the year 2000.
“Adherence to this agreement should also be required by public forces, who also use mines. This is a reciprocal issue that involves the Colombian army as well as the guerrillas,” said Marquez.
Marquez also stated that although the public denounces the use of mines by the guerrillas, the army’s use of “500 pound bombs that destroy lives, the environment and the jungle” does not receive the same level of scrutiny.
The FARC leader went on to repeat calls for the formation of a “truth commission,” along the lines of the investigative bodies established in post-Apartheid South Africa, a proposal the government has indicated it will only consider following a broader peace agreement.
In Friday’s statement, Marquez reiterated the “urgent” need for the creation of a commission. “We have repeatedly insisted on the need to establish a commission that determines the causes of the conflict, without which we cannot address the rights of victims or hold the criminally responsible accountable.”
Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, stated his support for the creation of a truth commission, but said it can only be created after a peace agreement has been reached.
The FARC has been fighting the Colombian state since its formation in 1964 in what has become the oldest internal armed conflict in the world. An estimated six-million Colombians are direct victims of the fighting between rebels, the Colombian military and state-aligned paramilitary groups.
Three previous attempts at peace talks between the government and rebels failed, but the Cuba talks have gone uninterrupted since their inception, despite continued hostilities between rebel and public security forces back in Colombia.