Last FARC Rebels Reach Concentration Zones, But Questions Remain

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Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said the FARC guerrillas have completed their transition into special concentration zones, but questions remain about the number of insurgents still left in the field and how the next steps in the demobilization process will pan out. 

In a video tweeted from his official account, President Santos said the last guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) have finally moved into the so-called Transitory Hamlet Zones for Normalization and the encampments where they will surrender their weapons and hand them over to the United Nations forces that will oversee their disarmament.

The FARC began moving towards the concentration zones on December 6, 2016, and were expected to meet a January 31, 2017 deadline. However, less than half of the guerrillas had entered the zones by January 28, prompting the government to give more time for the insurgents to complete their journey.

After some 300 FARC guerrillas reached the Agua Bonita’s zone in central Colombia on February 20, the number of rebels currently settled in the concentration zones is close to 6,900.

Santos called this a “historic event for Colombia,” and said that “the FARC will now start the disarmament and reintegration process,” reported El Colombiano. By June 1, 2017 the President assured the guerrillas will surrender all their weapons to the UN.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the transition of nearly 6,900 guerrillas does represent a historic achievement for Colombia, the total number of those surrendering represents only a fraction of the total strength of the rebel group. And the demobilization process still faces a number of obstacles moving forward.

InSight Crime believes the FARC have approximately 8,000 guerrillas in their ranks. These are only the uniformed rebels, commonly referred to as “guerrilleros rasos.” Yet the FARC organization also includes vast militia networks — groups that often operate in tandem with the rural fronts, or fighting units. Added together, the total number of uniformed insurgents and militia forces is estimated to be close to 30,000. The militia were explicitly mentioned in the peace treaty between the FARC and Santos government, and should be surrendering and disarming as well.

In addition, the FARC have suffered from several cases of defections, both from the rank-and-file as well as from high-profile commanders, five of whom were expelled by the guerrillas in December 2016. It is likely that the majority of these dissidents have not moved to the concentration zones.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the FARC Peace Process

Furthermore, the UN Mission in Colombia that will be heading the tripartite Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) and assisting in the guerrillas’ demobilization has expressed concern for the current state of the concentration zones.

In a letter written by the mission’s chief, Jean Arnault, the UN said that in many of the concentration zones the facilities that will be used to accommodate the guerrillas and store their weapons are yet to be completed, leading the UN to ask for a possible extension of the disarmament process. In response, Colombia’s Foreign Minister and the High Commissioner for Peace wrote Arnault that no extension will be granted, and highlighted that many of the difficulties encountered during the construction of the concentration zones have been overcome, despite significant logistical obstacles.

That being said, questions remain as to whether the FARC will be able to surrender all weapons in time for the June 1, 2017 deadline, and just how ready the government and UN staff will be to assist in the process. 

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