Colombia's FARC rebels set to launch political party
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Colombia's leftist FARC rebels will officially transform into a political party on September 1, a major step in reintegrating the former guerillas into civilian life as part of a historic peace deal.
"We will publicly launch the party on September 1 in the Plaza de Bolivar," in Bogota, FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada told AFP after a news conference by the group, almost a month after it completed its disarmament.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is the largest and oldest rebel group in the country's long-running civil war.
Although a smaller rebel group, the ELN, has yet to put down its weapons, the transition of the FARC into a political party will put a full stop to a 50-year conflict that left 260,000 people dead.
Lozada, whose real name is Julian Gallo, said the group had been working on the details of the "great political-cultural act."
"We made peace to participate in politics," FARC chief negotiator Ivan Marquez said.
Ahead of pope's visit
The FARC political party's policies and name will be decided at a congress at the end of August.
The disarmament last month by the roughly 7,000 members of Colombia's biggest rebel group under the 2016 peace accord brought a halt to the half-century-old civil war.
The accord was narrowly rejected by Colombians in a referendum last year before it was redrafted and pushed through congress.
That popular rejection was due to in part to resentment by many ordinary Colombians that the FARC would be allowed to enter political life, after decades of killing and kidnapping.
The country's only remaining rebel group, the smaller National Liberation Army, or ELN, is currently following the path set by the FARC to negotiate a peace deal aiming to disarm and demobilize.
Occasional clashes still break out between the ELN and government troops, and a government soldier was killed this month in a shoot-out with the rebel group.
But ELN negotiators were meeting Monday with Colombian government officials in the Ecuadorian capital Quito for a third round of talks aimed at reaching a similar peace deal to the FARC's.
"We will try to advance a ceasefire agreement," said government chief negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo on Twitter.
Political analyst Victor de Currea said the process was making "very solid" progress and that both sides were hoping to declare a bilateral truce during the pope's visit.
FARC viewed negatively
As well as leaving a quarter of a million dead, about 60,000 Colombians remain unaccounted for and seven million have been displaced in the conflict.
The FARC was born in May 1964 from a peasants' revolt, and its ranks were made up mostly of country-dwellers who rallied behind the group's Marxist-Leninist ideology, with land reform its rallying demand.
A former rebel, Erika Montero, said the new political incarnation of the FARC will be "anti-patriarchal" and "anti-imperialist."
The nascent party will especially focus on gender issues, the youth and agricultural, urban and economic subjects, she said.
One option being considered is to keep the FARC acronym, but have it stand for different words.
And it will be up to each former rebel to decide whether he or she will participate in the party under their nom de guerre or their true identity.
Historically, the FARC has had a bad image in Colombia because of the many kidnappings and deaths it was responsible for during the conflict.
Among the abductions was that of a former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, in 2002, who was held for six years.
Massacres included one, also in 2002, in the northwestern town of Bojoya, in which 79 people died. The rebels were also behind a car bomb attack in 2003 against the high-end El Nogal club in Bogota, in which 36 people were killed.
According to a survey in May by the Gallup polling firm, 82 percent of Colombians have a negative opinion of the FARC.
Candidates for the future FARC party are to be given security guarantees to avoid a bloody repeat of political violence in the 1980s and 1990s directed at the leftwing Patriotic Union, which emerged from a previous peace initiative. Some 3,000 members of that party were killed.
Marc Chernick, a political science professor at Georgetown University in Washington and Los Andes University in Bogota, said "the FARC's political party could be a step towards an opening up of Colombia's political system."
He said the new party would not "necessarily be Marxist" and could face the challenge of being one of several parties on the left in Colombia. "They are going to seek alliances," he predicted.
As an early phase, the government is to allocate at least five seats in the 166-member House of Representatives and five in the 102-seat Senate to the movement. The former guerrillas may expand on that in elections due next year.