Jailed FARC rebels call for amnesty in Colombia

As talks between Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continue, two jailed FARC members say any peace deal to end five-decade guerilla war must include amnesty for imprisoned FARC rebels

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Demonstrators in Cali, Colombia protest against the government and the peace talks with FARC on Aug. 7, 2015.

Any peace deal to end Colombia's five-decade guerrilla war must include amnesty for the imprisoned FARC rebels, two of the imprisoned FARC rebels told AFP in a rare interview from jail.

The issue is one of the most delicate part of the peace talks taking place in Cuba between President Juan Manuel Santos's government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The talks, which started in November 2012, are seen as the best chance yet to end the war that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced six million.

But to succeed, they will have to find a way to balance the desire for justice and the need to move on from a messy conflict in which human rights groups say atrocities have been committed by all sides.

"Everyone -- first and foremost the Colombian government's forces -- has made mistakes," said Luis Marulanda, 44, who was captured in 2001 when the Marxist rebels raided a police station.

"If the armed forces aren't going to be punished, we can't be punished either, or our leaders."

Some 3,300 captured rebels are serving time at 142 prisons across Colombia, according to a government report compiled for the peace talks.

Their fate is one of the agenda items on the road map for the Havana talks.

But despite urgent appeals from FARC negotiators to begin discussing the issue, so far there has been no official statement.

Marulanda said Colombia needs the FARC's commanders to play a part in building the country's future rather than languish in jail for events that happened in the past.

"They are leaders, they are the ones we really need in the journey that will only just begin when a peace deal is signed," said the clean-cut former fighter, who joined Front 57 of the FARC's Ivan Rios Bloc in 1994.

"They know the country and the historic problems of Colombian society," he added.

"If there is a peace process, we have to forgive and forget."

Among the agreements already reached at the peace talks, which have made halting progress in several areas but have yet to yield a final deal, is one providing for the political participation of former rebels after the conflict.

- 'Other options' -

Marulanda -- no relation to late FARC leader Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda -- spoke from La Picota prison in Bogota, which holds inmates from across the spectrum of the South American country's tangled conflict: leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers and politicians linked to the various armed groups.

Another FARC member held at the prison, Diego Restrepo, said peace negotiators should think outside the box to settle the question of justice in ways that will be acceptable to both sides.

"To reconcile and rebuild after these nearly 52 years of conflict, we have to look at other options besides prison bars," said the 42-year-old rebel, who fought under the nom de guerre "Mateo Ramirez" for Front 45 of the FARC's Eastern Bloc before being captured in an ambush on Good Friday in 2002.

"We would have no problem" with house arrest or being sent to work on farms, he said.

Founded in 1964 in the aftermath of a peasant uprising, the FARC today has an estimated 8,000 fighters. It is the largest rebel group still active in Colombia.