Juan Manuel Santos became the first Colombian president to visit the site where the FARC rebel group was created in the 1960s, and issued a call for peace in the country.
In a move which displayed the government’s increased hold on former rebel territory, Santos visited Marquetalia, an area in the central Tolima department where the rebel group was formed in 1964.
The president declared that no zone in Colombia was off limits to the security forces, a significant claim given that during the 1990s the FARC controlled at least 40 percent of the country’s area, much of this in the southern and central regions.
Deceased founder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Pedro Antonio Marin Marin, alias “Manuel Marulanda,” occupied the zone together with a small group of peasant fighters until government troops forced them out in 1964. This event is considered to mark the founding of the rebel army, which has now been active in Colombia for 47 years.
Santos repeated his call for the guerrillas to surrender, saying that their only other options were “death or prison.”
He said that the FARC had lost more than 4,500 members in 2011, with 2,200 demobilized, almost 2,000 captured and 500 killed. Guillermo Leon Saenz, alias “Alfonso Cano,” is thought to be hiding out in the Tolima department, harried by government forces. Santos has promised that Saenz will be taken down, saying that the government knows where the guerrilla chief is.
The president’s landmark visit followed a weekend in which at least four people died and 21 were injured in attacks attributed to the FARC.