Former FARC rebels march on Colombian capital to demand protection

Bogota (AFP) –


Former left-wing FARC guerrillas began a 10-day march in Colombia on Wednesday to protest the murder of 234 ex-rebels who laid down their arms under the historic 2016 peace accord that ended a half century of conflict.

The so-called "pilgrimage" occurred as indigenous people, teachers, students and unions also took to the streets across the country as part of a national strike to demand government action and protest against violence inflicted on indigenous people.

The 200-kilometer (125-mile) march began in Mesetas in the south of the country and is due to arrive in the capital Bogota on November 1.

It was organized following the death of two former combatants who were gunned down on October 16 near Mesetas. According to FARC, that brought the number of murdered ex-combatants to 234 since the peace deal.

Many of the former rebels have become victims rather than perpetrators as other left-wing groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers vie for ascendancy.

"We're calling for the country's attention to... reject the acts of violence from all sides, including the state," Pastor Alape, a former FARC commander and current political leader, told AFP.

Most of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) members disarmed under the 2016 agreement and joined a communist political party that uses the same acronym.

"We're looking for a dialogue with President (Ivan) Duque to see if his government is able to guarantee the lives of Colombians or if he's going to maintain his party's tone of inciting war," Alape said.

Right-wing Duque came to power in 2018 after running a campaign in which he vowed to modify the peace agreement made by his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos, which he considered too lenient on former rebels accused of atrocities.

However, Congress rejected his initiative.

Meanwhile thousands of demonstrators throughout the country continued protests that began last week with a march on Bogota to demand an end to violence against indigenous people.

"The people's mobilization signifies hope for us, it signifies resistance and it signifies the rebellion that invites us to rise up against the national government," said activist Francia Marquez in Bogota.

Indigenous people have been demanding a face-to-face meeting with Duque since October 10 but since it never occurred, they marched on Bogota, arriving on Sunday.

They are angry at the lack of security in many areas where they live that have been overrun by violent armed groups fighting over the lucrative drug trade.

Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine, much of it destined for the United States.

Despite the 2016 peace deal, security has not improved and according to the independent Indepaz watchdog, there have been 68 massacres in indigenous areas in 2020.