Colombia FARC Soldiers Demobilize, Militias Remain in Field

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Thousands of FARC guerrillas have moved into concentration zones to start a demobilization process, but InSight Crime estimates that the total number of those surrendering represents only a fraction of the total rebel structure.

The government’s High Commissioner for Peace (Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz) tweeted that 5,784 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) had entered the so-called Transitory Hamlet Zones for Normalization and the encampments where they will gradually surrender their weapons to the United Nations forces that are overseeing the process.

An estimated 500 additional FARC fighters are expected to arrive in the next few days.

The insurgents began moving towards the 20 concentration zones and eight encampments demobilization zones on December 6, 2016 in order to meet a January 31, 2017 deadline. However, less than half of the guerrillas had arrived by January 31, prompting the government to extend the deadline.

The demobilization of the FARC is the cornerstone of the peace agreement signed by the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the insurgents, which was ratified by Colombia’s Congress on November 30, 2016.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the demobilization of the FARC has paved the way towards the dismantling of the major actor in Colombia’s criminal landscape, as much as 60 percent of the FARC’s structure may still be still in the field.

The FARC have approximately 8,000 guerrillas in their ranks. Just over 6,000 are expected to move into the concentration zones, potentially leaving another 2,000 FARC fighters in the field.

These fighters are just the uniformed rebels, known as “guerrilleros rasos.” The FARC also have militia networks. These are groups that operate in in tandem with the rural “fronts” or fighting units, though they sometimes operate autonomously.

While the militias were meant to join the demobilization process, there is no indication of them moving into concentration zones or preparing to hand over weapons. Estimates of their size vary significantly. Official sources put their number at between 2,000 and 7,000, while the Colombian non-governmental organization Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliación – PARES) calculates that the FARC fighters and militia combined could reach 25,000, a number which we believe to be closer to the reality.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the FARC Peace Process

The numbers are unsettling, suggesting that less than half the FARC’s structure is actually demobilizing. Several middle-ranking commanders have already broken away from the group.  On December 13, 2016 the FARC expelled five commanders from their ranks, and now there is evidence of further fragmentation as more factions break away or criminalize.

In Tumaco — an embattled city in the border department of Nariño, where InSight Crime is currently conducting extensive field work — a conflict between FARC loyalists and dissidents erupted, showing the fragmentation is leading to more fighting between rival rebel factions.

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