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France offers asylum to reformed FARC jailer

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2008-11-01

France has accepted a demand for asylum by "Isaza," (pictured) a jailer for the Colombian Marxist rebel group known as the FARC. He had helped a hostage, Colombian politician Oscar Lizcano, escape from FARC captivity.

In an unprecedented move, the French government is about to grant asylum to a member of the FARC revolutionary army in Colombia. As French authorities claim to offer a political solution to Colombia’s internal strife, analysts denounce a PR campaign.


Known as Isaza, the refugee at the heart of the controversy deserted the FARC last weekend, together with Oscar Tulio Lizcano, a former MP held hostage by the Marxist guerilla for the past eight years. The unlikely pair marched through the jungle for three days, before coming across an army post. The guerilla fighter then promptly surrendered.  


Twenty-eight-year-old Isaza, whose real name is Wilson Bueno Largo, explained his escape in a press conference on Sunday: “The pressure from the army, the lack of sleep, of money, the hunger, and Mr Lizcano’s worsening health, all convinced me it was time to leave”. His wife, also a member of the FARC, deserted the guerilla movement a few months earlier.


Ever since the end of 2007 France has raised the prospect of welcoming jailed guerilla fighters freed by Bogota in return for hostages. Yet, with the FARC labeled a terrorist organisation by the European Union since 2002, granting asylum rights to a terrorist, be he a repentant one, would be an unprecedented step.


A spokesperson for France’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Eric Chevallier, told FRANCE 24 that political asylum would only be granted under two conditions: “That he repents and that he be exempt from criminal procedures."


“A French PR campaign”


Mr Chevalier also pointed out that the government was thereby hoping to push for the liberation of other hostages, notwithstanding the fact that Ingrid Betancourt had already been released.


Analysts, however, denounce a PR campaign by French authorities. “We’re looking at a flashy PR campaign by the authorities,” according to Pierre Henry, head of the French NGO France Terre d’Asile. “It’s not up to them to decide. The right of asylum has been defined in precise terms within the framework of the Geneva Convention. The only thing the French government can do is grant safe-conduct”.


“A different situation from that of the Red Brigades”


The decision by French authorities has caused considerable confusion. Just a few months ago, Paris appeared ready to extradite Marina Petrella, former member of Italy’s Red Brigades, a leftist terrorist group active in the 1970s and 80s, only to change its mind a few weeks later citing humanitarian reasons.


The move is also being questioned in Colombia. Do repentant guerilla fighters really wish to move to a foreign land? “I don’t think this is an agreeable prospect for them,” says Renée Fregosi of the Paris-based Institute for Latin American Studies (IHEAL).


She argues that rebel fighters who opt to surrender are no longer threatened by FARC reprisals, as was previously the case. Nor are they usually targeted by legal proceedings. Indeed, a law passed in 2005 has alleviated the sentences passed onto paramilitary fighters. “De facto, this also applies to guerilla fighters,” she adds.


Still, the Colombian government is concerned that repentant fighters may swell the ranks of the Alternative Democratic Pole, a centre-left party that constitutes an alternative to armed struggle. “I think [Colombian President Alvaro] Uribe prefers to see them go to France,” suggests Renée Fregosi. The Alternative Democratic Pole, led by Carlos Graviria, has risen to become the country’s second-largest party.


Date created : 2008-10-27