Former Farc commanders announce new offensive in Colombia

Major blow to peace process as high-profile dissidents post YouTube video from jungle

A still from the YouTube video, which Iván Márquez (centre) said  was filmed in Colombia’s Amazon.

A still from the YouTube video, which Iván Márquez (centre) said was filmed in Colombia’s Amazon.

 

A group of former rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) said in a video posted overnight that it will launch a new offensive, threatening to resume their five decades of armed conflict in the South American nation.

Two former commanders from the group, known by their aliases Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, appear in the 32-minute YouTube video announcement of the offensive, which comes three years after the Farc signed a peace deal with the government.

“This is the continuation of the rebel fight in answer to the betrayal of the state of the Havana peace accords,” said Mr Márquez, dressed in olive fatigues and surrounded by armed fighters. “We were never beaten or defeated ideologically, so the struggle continues.”

Mr Márquez was a key negotiator of the peace agreement signed in 2016. He went missing last year after his nephew was arrested and taken to the United States to co-operate with drug-trafficking investigators.

The announcement, which Mr Márquez said was filmed in Colombia’s Amazon, comes amid severe challenges for the complex accord, including the murder of hundreds of former rebels and human rights activists, delays in funding for economic efforts by ex-combatants, and deep political polarisation.

The group’s objective is the installation of a government that will support peace, Mr Márquez said. It will fight corruption and fracking and demand payments from those participating in illegal economies and from multinational companies, he said.

2,200 fighters

Security sources said the force commanded by Mr Márquez could number 2,200 fighters.

President Iván Duque was elected on a platform to change parts of the deal, but has failed to get congressional or judicial support to do so. He has repeatedly said former guerrillas with a true desire to disarm will be supported.

“The government will insist on asking for arrest warrants for these people who are openly turning their backs on the peace process,” the government’s high peace commissioner Miguel Ceballos told Caracol Radio by phone.

“They are betraying the genuine wish for peace of other members of the Farc,” Mr Ceballos said.

But Mr Ceballos added the military capacity of the group is limited. “It is not something the country should fear.”

Former Farc commander Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, said on Twitter the “great majority” of ex-Farc fighters remain committed to peace “despite all the difficulties and dangers.”

Mr Londoño is now a leader within the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, the Farc political party born out of the peace accord.

The dissident group will seek to co-ordinate with fellow leftist rebels the National Liberation Army (ELN), Mr Márquez said, and will not use kidnapping and ransom as a source of financing.

“All of this, this trick, this betrayal, this perfidy, the unilateral modification of the text of the accord, the unfulfilled commitments on the part of the state, the judicial set-ups and insecurity, have obliged us to return to the mountains,” said Mr Márquez, whose birth name is Luciano Marin.

Demobilisation

Some 13,000 Farc members, including 7,000 combatants, demobilised under the 2016 accord signed in Cuba, many joining reintegration efforts or returning home to their families.

Others remained armed or formed new units, continuing lucrative drug trafficking, illegal mining activities or attacks on the military.

“The start of a new guerrilla group by Ivan Márquez is a politically significant event, but at this point does not alter the country’s security profile or security risks. Most likely members of the group aren’t even in Colombia to begin with,” said Sergio Guzman, founder of Colombia Risk Analysis.

Many active rebels are believed to base themselves in neighbouring Venezuela. Last month, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro said both Mr Márquez and Santrich were welcome in his country.

Mr Santrich, whose birth name is Seuxis Pausias Hernandez, is wanted in extradition by the United States for alleged conspiracy to export 10 tonnes of cocaine.

The commander Hernan Dario Velasquez, who goes by the alias “El Paisa”, also appears in the video.

More than 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced during Colombia’s conflict between the government, rebel groups, crime gangs and right-wing paramilitaries. – Reuters