A Colombian soldier recently killed a demobilized FARC member in a reintegration camp, adding to the mounting deaths and disappearances of former guerrilla fighters whose security remains unassured by government authorities, a situation that threatens the ongoing peace process.
Dimar Torres, a demobilized member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), was shot just outside of Campo Alegre, a designated Territorial Space for Training and Reincorporation (Espacio Territorial de Capacitación y Reincorporación – ETCR) in the volatile Catatumbo region along the Colombia-Venezuela border.
His April 22 shooting death was initially labeled an accident by Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, who backed the soldier’s claims that it happened during a struggle after Torres had attempted to steal his rifle.
But this version of events was immediately refuted amid reports that soldiers were found digging a hole in which they planned to dump Torres’ mutilated body. The cadet who shot Torres four times with his rifle has since been charged with homicide.
The Senate Peace Commission held a public hearing on April 27 at the site that attracted over 1,000 participants. There, Senator Iván Cepeda said that Torres’ killing constituted an “extrajudicial execution” and was “a crime against the peace agreement.”
During the same hearing, the commission received other reports of army abuse, including the wounding of two girls between the ages of six and seven years who were struck by rifle shots.
General Diego Luis Villegas of the Fuerza de Tarea Vulcan, the force in charge of the area, asked for the community’s forgiveness in relation to recent abuses. Yet Human Rights Watch accused Villegas himself of involvement in extrajudicial killings, including the “false positives” scandal of the early 2000s.
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Days before Torres’ killing, the leaders of 15 of the 24 ETCRs in the country came together to report on their concerns about the reintegration process. Of the 14,000 guerrilla fighters enrolled in the process, less than 400 have received benefits from projects associated with it, according to Colombia’s Reincorporation and Normalization Agency (Agencia para la Reincorporación y Normalización – ARN).
Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that ETCR’s legal mandate expires in August. There is little to no clarity on the future of reintegration zones where projects are being developed to provide livelihoods to ex-guerrilla members.
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Since the signing of the peace agreement between the FARC and Colombian government in 2016, the Attorney General’s Office has received some 130 reports of murders and disappearances of demobilized guerrilla fighters and family members. Additionally, about 500 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed over the past three years, some of whose cases activists are asking the International Criminal Court to investigate.
A week before Torres’ killing, a former guerrilla fighter’s 7-month-old baby was shot dead by assailants who entered the home where the family was staying.
Demobilized fighters have also faced abuse by authorities. One of the chief negotiators for the peace agreement, who is currently the leader of the Pondores ETCR in La Guajira, recently reported harassment by Colombian military intelligence. There have also been reports of police violently invading an ETCR, as well as threats and attacks by criminal groups.
Torres’ killing by a soldier whose top commanding officer was involved in the false positives scandal recalls some of the worst violence and abuses committed in recent history by the Colombian military, which acted with impunity during its war with the FARC. Human Rights Watch had even warned congress about Villegas’ checkered past prior to his promotion to general last December.
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Though the cadet implicated in Torres’ shooting death was arrested and jailed with surprising speed, the initial claim by Colombia’s defense minister that the killing was an accident is worrisome. Other officials also sought to dismiss and normalize the killing, including peace consultant Emilio Archila, who called it an “isolated event.”
Concerns for the future of Colombia’s reintegration camps — where demobilized guerrillas are supposed to be trained to support themselves in civilian life — also seem to be substantiated.
In a letter addressed to Congress, former guerrillas in ETCR sites around the country assure they have been “excluded” from the National Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo – PND). The government has also been accused of bolstering projects that block rural communities’ access to land in favor of the interests of large landowners.
Following their longtime commanders, many demobilized guerrillas have chosen to leave ETCR zones out of fear of further attacks, leaving them vulnerable to recruitment by dissident FARC fighters and other guerrilla forces, paramilitaries or drug trafficking groups.
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