The United States’s planned removal of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group from its list of “foreign terrorist organizations” could happen as early as the end of November, an unnamed US official told the Reuters news agency.
The move was first reported by US news outlets on Tuesday, the eve of the five-year anniversary of a landmark peace deal between the Marxist rebels and Colombia’s government that put an end to decades of violence.
The FARC’s removal from Washington’s “foreign terrorist” list could be implemented by late November or early December, the US official told Reuters.
The US State Department notified Congress on Tuesday of its planned delisting of the FARC, while the Colombian government was formally notified on Wednesday.
The FARC fought for five decades in an era of devastating political violence in Colombia, carrying out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and attacks in the name of redistributing wealth to Colombia’s poor.
The group signed the peace deal with Bogota in 2016, and in 2018 took part in a United Nations-supervised decommissioning of the last of its accessible weapons. Today, it is designated as a political party, with a guaranteed share of seats in Colombia’s legislature.
Removing the group from the US terror list would allow American officials to work with FARC members who are now entering private or political life, the US official said.
The official also said the administration of US President Joe Biden intends to keep hardliner groups made up of former FARC rebels and a second group of ex-rebels that uses a variation of the FARC name on the list of “terrorist” organisations.
“It also allows us to target the full tools of the US government and law enforcement to go after those individuals who did not sign the agreement and remain active in terrorist activities,” the official added.
Despite the 2016 agreement, violence continues in several parts of Colombia where FARC dissidents who rejected the peace deal still hold weapons, and where other armed groups and drug traffickers operate.
We commend the people of Colombia on the five-year anniversary of the Peace Accord. Colombia has made meaningful progress and we will continue to support their implementation of the Accord.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) November 24, 2021
This week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – on a visit to the South American nation to mark the anniversary of the peace deal – deplored “enemies of peace” and called for “guaranteeing the safety of ex-combatants, social leaders and human rights defenders”.
“We must redouble our efforts to guarantee the sustainability of [reintegration] projects, with technical and financial support, land and housing,” Guterres said on Tuesday.
Former combatants, victim representatives, the Colombian government and the UN chief gathered on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a tribunal set up to adjudicate the worst crimes of the conflict that saw some nine million people killed, injured, kidnapped or displaced.
“We insist on apologising to the victims of our actions during the conflict,” Rodrigo Londono, an ex-FARC commander also known by his former nom de guerre Timochenko, said during the ceremony in Bogota.
“Our understanding of their pain grows daily in us and fills us with grief and shame,” he said.
Having former FARC members on the US “terrorism” list prevented American government agencies from collaborating with development projects that include former fighters, such as schemes to remove landmines, or efforts to replace illegal crops like coca leaf, said Adam Isacson from the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group.
Conflict resolution groups welcomed news of the delisting.
“Very glad to see this step taken, which will no doubt ease the implementation of the Colombia peace agreement,” Renata Segura, deputy director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group, a non-profit research group, said on Twitter.
Colombia is experiencing its most violent period since 2016 due to continued fighting between armed groups vying for control of drug fields, illegal gold mines and lucrative smuggling routes.
According to the Indepaz peace research institute, there are 90 armed groups with some 10,000 members active in the country. They include more than 5,000 FARC dissidents who rejected peace, some 2,500 members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) – the country’s last active guerrilla group, and another 2,500 right-wing paramilitary fighters.
Last month, the UN warned that the deteriorating security situation represented a “considerable challenge” to the country’s 2016 peace accords.