Irish president visits Farc rebel camp in Colombia

Michael D Higgins is showing his support for the peace process with the government

Colombian deputy foreign minister Patti Londoño welcomes Michael D Higgins to Bogota where he spoke about the peace process.

Colombian deputy foreign minister Patti Londoño welcomes Michael D Higgins to Bogota where he spoke about the peace process.

 

President Michael D Higgins has visited a camp where the Colombian rebel army known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) are demobilising, as part of the first state visit of an Irish president to the Andean nation.

His time in Colombia will chiefly be spent showing Áras an Uachtaráin’s support for the peace process between the South American country’s government and its largest rebel group, the Farc.

Government and Farc negotiators last year reached a historic peace accord ending 52 years of war that have left more than 220,000 dead and almost 7 million displaced. Part of that deal requires that all Farc members go to rural camps and turn in their weapons under the supervision of the United Nations.

On Sunday afternoon, the president visited one of the 26 zones where the rebels are demobilizing. He travelled with Colombia’s high commissioner for peace, Sergio Jaramillo, who was instrumental in overseeing the tense negotiations that lasted four years in Havana, Cuba.

Demobilisation zone

The trip marks the first time a foreign leader has visited a Farc demobilisation zone while fully operational. French president François Hollande visited one last month, though the logistics were not totally in place and not all rebels had arrived.

Following the Farc camp visit, the president has a busy schedule.

On Monday, Mr Higgins will give a keynote address at Bogotá’s National University of Colombia “on peace, reconciliation and ethical remembering, and the specific contribution to conflict resolution made by the Colombian peace process,” according to the presidency’s website. He will then meet with representatives from civil society organisations involved in the peace process.

On Tuesday, he will meet with Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, to discuss lessons learnt from the Northern Ireland peace process. Mr Santos last year won the Nobel Peace Prize for his continued efforts to bring peace to the South American country. In his acceptance speech, he mentioned that the Northern Ireland peace deal inspired him during negotiations with the Farc.

Funding

Ireland has provided €11.7 million in funding to Colombia over the past decade, according to a spokesperson from Áras an Uachtaráin. A total of €1.18 million was provided last year, with more than €2.2 million foreseen in 2017, “mainly for projects aimed at the implementation of the peace accord, including its human rights aspects,” the spokesperson said.

The two leaders will also discuss commerce between the countries.

Mr Higgins was received on Saturday afternoon at El Dorado airport in Bogotá by Colombia’s vice-minister of the exterior, Patti Londoño, beginning the second leg of a larger Latin American trip that took in Peru last week and will move on to Cuba on Wednesday.