President Higgins meets with FARC commander in Colombian jungle

He is the first foreign head of state to visit a fully de-mobilised FARC guerrilla camp

President, Michael D Higgins, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

President Michael D Higgins during a visit to the FINIRISH BATT HQ in South Lebanon | Image: RollingNews.ie/Aras An Uachtarain

President Michael D. Higgins became the first foreign head of state to visit a fully de-mobilised FARC guerrilla camp, as part of Colombia’s ambitious peace process ending 5 decades of armed conflict today.
 
Despite losing a referendum on an agreed platform for peace in December last year, the government of Juan Manuel Sanchos passed through congress, an amended agreement, apparently taking in to account the concerns of the electorate.
 
As part of the long term plan of eventually disarming the FARC, members have agreed to decamp in special demobilisation zones, where they take part in retraining and begin decommissioning.

Travelling by military helicopter to one of the zones in the Anori jungle, President Higgins met with senior FARC Commander Pastor Alape, a key figure in bringing the peace process to fruition.
 
As a FARC member since 1986, Alape is wanted in the US for serious crimes involving cocaine trafficking, the indirect and direct involvement with hundreds of killings as part of his role in the FARC.
 
Visiting one of the demobilising zones, alongside UN representatives and Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo President Higgins confirmed Ireland’s commitment to supporting the peace process.
 
Ireland funds the Colombian Peace Process through an EU trust fund to the tune of €3 million. The President told the commander and the participants that he “wished them well” in their endeavours.
He also warned of the “fragile” peace process in Northern Ireland saying that upon achieving peace, such agreements such be "regarded always with attention.”
Arriving by military helicopter. Credit: Shona Murray, Newstalk
 
FARC commander Alape said Ireland and the Irish was important to the peace process in Colombia, and the visit by Colombia by an Irish president was “very important”, for the “rank and file” FARC “foot soldiers.”
Of the many concerns the electorate had with the process, the prospect of impunity for grave breaches of international humanitarian law, war crimes and crimes against humanity are chief among them. Opposition to the new deal is being led by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe who is also concerned about the agreement allowing for senior FARC members participate in mainstream politics.
 
President Higgins, accompanied by Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, this morning met with a representative of Uribe’s party Carlos Holmes Trujillo who expressed his concerns about the judicial process and sentencing for the serious war crimes and atrocities that took place during the FARC’s war against the government and its paramilitary groups.
 
Some of the crimes include mass rape, 240,00 killings – 80 per cent of which were civilians. Over 40,000 people were disappeared, and 6.4 million displaced as a result of ethnic cleansing from all sides.
 
Irish delegation meets with groups opposing peace process. Credit: Shona Murray, Newstalk
 
President Higgins will today address Colombia’s National University where he will again draw on the experience of Ireland’s peace process and the embryonic peace project embarked upon by the Colombian government and armed groups.