In the aftermath of an incident involving the death of two children who were allegedly killed following orders from Colombia’s oldest living rebel group, the FARC, President Juan Manuel Santos condemned the use of child soldiers, but deflected mentioning the guerrillas by name.
“To use underage children in war, is a war crime,” said President Santos in a speech in Colombia’s northern city of Santa Marta Thursday evening.
This past Wednesday in the southwestern state of Nariño, two children were killed when bombs they were paid to plant at a police station in the city of Tumaco exploded prematurely. The commander of the Nariño Police, General Ramiro Mena has attributed the paying of the boys to the Daniel Aldana column of the western bloc of the FARC who have had a strong active presence in this pacific coastal city.
Since then, popular media and political figures have returned to the controversial subject of the FARC’s historic use and recruitment of child soldiers while calling into question ongoing peace talks between the government and the rebels.
Presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga — one of the most outspoken politicians against the peace talks — demanded Thursday that the dialogues taking place in Havana, Cuba, be stopped immediately due to the FARC’s attributed connections to child soldiers and this lethal incident.
President Santos, who is the biggest champion of the peace talks, addressed the issue of child soldiers Thursday night, but despite Colombian headlines saying that “Santos condemns use of children for terrorist actions on the part of the FARC,” he never implicated or mentioned the FARC by name, and in fact deflected attention to “criminal organizations'” use of children, rather than “guerrillas.”
“One should not forget the criminal organizations…they will be brought to justice and convicted,” said the head of state highlighting that local police near Santa Marta had recently captured nearly 20 members of the criminal gang, Los Urabeños.
Child recruitment is not officially on the agenda to be discussed between delegations of the FARC and the government, however it has been one of the most contentious topics in Colombia over the past decade.
Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office last year released a report claiming the use of children by the FARC, either through direct recruitment or manipulation for certain gain has been an ongoing problem throughout the armed conflict.
The peace talks have become a political hot point approaching May 25’s presidential elections, with Santos running for re-election on seemingly one talking point: peace, or the hope for peace through his hallmark dialogues with the FARC.