FARC leaders take responsibility for kidnappings

Bogota (AFP) –


Former FARC leaders formally recognized at a special tribunal Monday "ethical and political responsibility" for thousands of kidnappings carried out during Colombia's long conflict.

At a hearing in Bogota, Rodrigo "Timoshenko" Londono -- FARC ex-commander and now leader of the movement's political party -- handed written testimony to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace purportedly detailing thousands of kidnappings.

"We recognize the existence of civilian retentions and assume on behalf of the men and women who were part of the organization, our collective ethical and political responsibility for the damage caused to the people and families who were victims of this unfortunate practice," Londono told the hearing.

"We don't want to justify any conduct that was in violation of international humanitarian law, but to make known in our own voice the objective reasons that led many Colombians to build what became FARC," said Londono.

"We have taken a first step in a long process," Londono told the tribunal known by its Spanish acronym JEP, which is examining the period between 1993 and 2012.

The JEP was set up to try former combatants and hand out alternative sentences to prison time if they confess their crimes, compensate victims and pledge never to resort to violence again.

Londono was one of 11 former FARC leaders to take collective responsibility for the kidnappings before the tribunal on Monday.

Londono and other commanders made an initial appearance before the tribunal in July last year, in which they asked victims for forgiveness.

- 6,000 abductions -

During their long and failed struggle for power, the FARC used abductions to pressure the government and raise cash for their struggle.

The prosecution has documented 6,162 cases of kidnapping, with more than 8,000 victims.

They included military, police and politicians such as Franco-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, who were kept for years deep in the jungle before being rescued or released.

Many others died in captivity. Colombia's attorney general's office, which has responsibility for human rights, documented 522 deaths in captivity in a report to the tribunal on Monday.

Londono and two other leaders appeared before the tribunal in July last year to ask their victims for forgiveness.

Tribunal Judge Julieta Lemaitre said Monday the written testimony presented by the FARC commanders would have to explain the reasons that led them to carry out kidnappings, many people they abducted and how much money they received in return for their release.

The tribunal will contrast their evidence with that of prosecutors and victims.