The Colombian government plans to extend the benefits of the 2005 Justice and Peace law
to 120 jailed
members of the leftist FARC guerrillas, presidential Peace Commissioner
Luis Carlos Restrepo announced Tuesday.
According to Restrepo, this first group from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC, expressed their intention of not returning to the
armed struggle and was considered worthy of receiving the benefits of
the law, which offers a reduction of sentences.
told a press conference that a total of 1,178 members of the guerrilla
group “have expressly formulated their decision to the government to
submit themselves to the Peace and Justice Law.”
“That for us is
the way to reconciliation. These prisoners have been treated with
dignity. We have noted their willingness to stay out of the group and
leave violence behind,” the official said.
He recalled that the
FARC hopes to win the release of some 500 captive rebels by trading the
28 politicians, soldiers and police the guerrillas are holding.
But according to Restrepo, many captive rebels have no wish to return to the FARC, but rather to civilian life.
are currently FARC prisoners who don’t want to take part in an
exchange, nor do they want the FARC to get them out of jail to tie them
once again to the guerrilla group,” the commissioner said.
they want is to be reconciled with society, with their families, and we
have opened the way for them. We have pardoned those guilty of terrible
crimes, and for the others we have the path of the Peace and Justice
Law,” he said.
Restrepo said that one rebel who asked to be
included under that law is Heli Mejia Mendoza, alias “Martin Sombra,”
who has been in the FARC for 35 years and was captured last May in the
central province of Boyaca.
Mejia is accused of belonging to the
column that kidnapped three U.S. defense contractors rescued by the
Colombian army on July 2 together with another 13 hostages including
former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
The Peace and
Justice Law, considered far too benign by many, was designed for
members of the AUC federation of rightist militias, which demobilized
more than 31,000 combatants in the course of the 2003-2006 peace talks
with the government of President Alvaro Uribe.
international human rights groups say the AUC is responsible for the
largest number of civilian deaths in Colombia’s decades-old internal
conflict, followed by the security forces and the FARC.
announced on Dec. 21 that they will soon release six hostages without
conditions. The rebels unilaterally freed six other captives earlier