Colombia-Farc peace talks: 50 years of guerilla warfare

Aug 28, 2012

Rebel group fighting since 1964 may come in from the cold – but what is Farc?

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COLOMBIA'S president, Juan Manuel Santos, has confirmed that his government is holding talks with the left-wing armed rebel group Farc. The two sides will sit down together in Oslo on 5 October, reports the BBC.

Farc, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is a Marxist-Leninist group of guerrilla fighters which has existed since 1964, challenging successive Colombian governments, despite numerous attempts at peace negotiations.

Here is a brief history of Farc in four short chapters:

1964: Farc founded
After the 1948 assassination of Liberal politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Colombia suffered a ten-year civil war between the country's left- and  right-wing movements. Authoritarian former Conservative politician and general Gustavo Rojas Pinilla seized power and imposed order but some Communist enclaves remained in rural areas. The state, with US backing, tried to crush these pockets of resistance in the early 1960s and Farc was formed in response. It has been fighting the state, and opposing what it sees as US imperialism, ever since.

1982: Drugs fund the 'People's Army'
With Ronald Reagan not long established in the White House, Farc announced a major change in strategy. Previously, the group's attempts at fighting had been scrappy, but with increasing income from cocaine, structured itself along army lines. It began to call itself a 'People's Army' and started sending fighters to Vietnam and the Soviet Union for training. Around this time, Conservative president Belisario Betancur started the first peace talks with the group, which led to a three-year ceasefire. This collapsed in part because of violence among drug barons. The link between Farc and cocaine production continues to this day.

2001: 'IRA men' arrested
Farc became a household name in the UK when, in 2001, the Colombian government captured three Irish men, James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley, and accused them of being IRA members who had travelled to the country on false passports to train Farc rebels. The three fled to Ireland before they could be put to trial. In 2005, Ireland's then foreign minister, Dermot Ahern, held talks with his Colombian counterpart about extraditing them, but the men remain at large in Ireland. Also in 2005, the Colombian government claimed that Farc attacks bore the hallmarks of IRA influence, said the BBC.

2008: Ingrid Betancourt freed
On 6 July that year, a Colombian senator, Ingrid Betancourt, was freed after 2,321 days held captive by Farc. Betancourt, a French citizen, had been kidnapped in 2002 by the group, which has a history of holding hostages to ransom. Her release, along with 14 other prisoners, was claimed as a triumph by the Colombian government which said it managed the rescue without bloodshed by infiltrating the group – though there were claims that a ransom had been paid. Betancourt published a book about her years in captivity and The Guardian revealed she had listened to the BBC World Service during her time as a prisoner.

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