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Colombian leader offers reward for arrest after Farc official resumes insurgency

Farc negotiator Luciano Marin appeared on video alongside 20 heavily armed insurgents dressed in camouflaged fatigues.

Luciano Marin (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)
Luciano Marin (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

By Joshua Goodman, Associated Press

Colombia’s president has offered a near-million dollar reward for the arrest of the top peace negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) after the rebel and a cadre of hardliners vowed to resume their insurgency.

In a televised address, President Ivan Duque also accused Venezuela’s socialist leadership of providing safe haven to the rebels, underscoring the risks to regional stability from the rebels’ shock announcement they would rearm.

In a video, Luciano Marin appeared alongside 20 heavily armed insurgents dressed in camouflaged fatigues condemning Mr Duque for standing by as hundreds of leftist activists and rebels have been killed since demobilising as part of the peace deal.

“When we signed the accord in Havana we did so with the conviction that it was possible to change the life of the most humble and dispossessed,” said Mr Marin, better known by his alias Ivan Marquez.

“But the state hasn’t fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens.”

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Ivan Duque (Efrain Herrera/Colombia’s Presidential Press Office/AP)

Mr Marin read lengthy prepared remarks from what looked like an established guerrilla camp in what he said was Colombia’s eastern jungles.

But Colombian authorities swiftly alleged the video was shot in neighbouring Venezuela — long a strategic rearguard for the rebels whose socialist government the Trump administration and several conservative US allies, especially Mr Duque, have been seeking to remove.

“We’re not witnessing the birth of a new guerrilla army, but rather the criminal threats of a band of narco terrorists who have the protection and support of Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship,” Mr Duque said.

“We won’t fall into the trap of those pretending to shield themselves behind false ideological clothing to sustain their criminal structure.”

The decision to return to arms was overwhelmingly rejected by Colombians, many of whom believe the rebels benefited from a sweetheart pact of impunity.

It comes as the peace process is at risk of unravelling because of what critics see as its slow implementation and a surge in killings of social leaders in far-flung rural areas where the rebels had long been dominant.

With two pistols strapped to his belt, Mr Marin pledged a “new phase” in Colombia’s armed conflict and vowed to seek alliances with another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN.

Standing alongside him were several former Farc leaders, including ideologue Seuxis Hernandez, alias Jesus Santrich, who abandoned the peace process after prosecutors in New York ordered his arrest on drug charges.

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Seuxis Hernandez (Fernando Vergara/AP)

Mr Maduro last month said the fugitive rebel leaders would be welcome in his nation and for months, Colombian military intelligence have alleged that that Mr Marin, Mr Hernandez and several top ELN commanders were hiding in the neighbouring country.

Patricia Linares, head of the special peace tribunal investigating Farc’s crimes, indicated that magistrates would move quickly to strip the deserting rebels of benefits under the peace deal.

Under the accord, rebels who confess their involvement in war crimes like the kidnappings of civilians and recruitment of child soldiers will be spared jail time and protected from extradition to the US, which has charged Farc’s top leadership with cocaine trafficking.

“Whoever rearms will be expelled,” Ms Linares said.

It is unclear how the decision by Mr Marin to rearm will affect Colombia’s delicate security balance. More than 90% of the 13,060 ex-combatants and civilian supporters who handed over weapons to United Nations observers in 2016 continue to live up to their commitments under the peace deal.

But a group of dissident Farc commanders never demobilised and have seen their ranks swell to around 2,500 fighters through recruitment.

They continue to terrorise isolated rural communities, especially along Colombia’s borders with Venezuela and Ecuador, profiting from a booming cocaine trade in those areas.

In addition, the more radical ELN has filled the void left by withdrawing Farc rebels and stepped up attacks in cities, including the car bombing of a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 people.

PA

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