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article imageMainstream FARC rebels reject call to arms

By Rodrigo ALMONACID (AFP)     Sep 6, 2019 in World

The logo on ex-FARC combatant Davinson Lopez's tee-shirt says it all, and it's a message Colombians desperately want to hear: "Our only weapon is peace."

A week ago several of the most prominent leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia sent a chill through this conflict-weary country when they emerged briefly from hiding to declare a return to arms.

Ivan Marquez, FARC's top negotiator for the 2016 peace agreement, said the government had reneged on key components of the deal and the time had come "for a new stage of fighting."

But the majority of combatants who disarmed following the deal, and settled in normalization zones like this one in the green hills of Icononzo, say they are sticking with the peace process -- despite perceptions that the government lacks the will to implement it fully.

Former FARC rebel Jesus David Albino walks past a mural in Icononzo depicting Argentine-born revolut...
Former FARC rebel Jesus David Albino walks past a mural in Icononzo depicting Argentine-born revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara that reads: "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees"
DANIEL MUNOZ, AFP

Lopez admits Marquez's call knocked him back on his heels.

"No one expected this situation, let alone from Comrade Ivan Marquez," he said. "He was very committed to the process, because he was the one who signed it."

The 2016 peace agreement ended a 50-year conflict. And there's little stomach for a return to the fray in these parts.

"Peace is irreversible," said Lopez, in the cool mountain air of Icononzo, one of around two dozen temporary settlements meant to help the jungle fighters ease back into society.

Dirt roads wind through green hills dotted with red-roofed prefabricated houses. It has been home to some 300 former guerrillas and their families since late 2016.

"I've never thought about dropping this," said former rebel Sonia Castill, taking a break from planting aloe. "After all the years fighting in the mountains, it's too hard to throw away what we've achieved, so I won't quit."

Former FARC rebel Sonia Castillo is photographed in her home in Icononzo on September 2  2019
Former FARC rebel Sonia Castillo is photographed in her home in Icononzo on September 2, 2019
DANIEL MUNOZ, AFP

Castill and other former combatants work the 22 hectares (55 acres) of land here to plant corn, potatoes, peas and avocados. Some work on nearby farms. Other ex-rebels have set up a small clothing company. There's even a small craft brewery.

- Surviving the peace -

Lopez said the ex-rebels are still in danger despite adhering to the peace deal. Only a few months ago, he narrowly escaped an ambush in which he says both he and his five-year-old son could have been killed.

Attacks by far-right groups on former FARC guerrillas go unpunished, he said.

FARC's political party says 143 ex-guerrillas have been killed since the signing of the peace agreement, as old scores are settled.

That statistic forced Lopez and his family to flee Marquetalia, where his reintegration process was supposed to unfold. In Icononzo, he manages a shop.

A former FARC rebel takes a break from his work at an aloe vera farm in a reincorporation zone for f...
A former FARC rebel takes a break from his work at an aloe vera farm in a reincorporation zone for former guerrillas
DANIEL MUNOZ, AFP

"Now is the time to fight for peace. We have to be consistent," he said, calling on those who have turned their back on the agreement to re-commit to the deal.

Despite government promises under the agreement, said Jesus Albino, former rebel-held areas still have no running water, sewage or public electricity nearly three years on.

Neglect of rural communities is why FARC took up arms in the first place in 1964, and why Marquez and his rebels are preparing to fight again.

But for Albino, one of around 7,000 former FARC fighters who disarmed, this is a time to hold on tight to peace.

- Not giving up -

"There have been many difficulties in this process, but this doesn't mean we're going to give up and take up arms again," he said.

Former FARC rebel Ruben Dario Jaramillo serves craft beer at a shop in Icononzo
Former FARC rebel Ruben Dario Jaramillo serves craft beer at a shop in Icononzo
DANIEL MUNOZ, AFP

"No, on the contrary. We cannot leave behind the little we have already built."

The government has disbursed some $7.3 million for 389 initiatives involving 1,800 ex-combatants. In addition, each former rebel receives a monthly income of about $205.

"We had to fight hard for these promises to be fulfilled," says Castillo, 33. "But here we are fulfilling the agreement to the letter."

Ruben Jaramillo, who tends the craft brewery, said the government has fallen far short on its commitments.

An aerial view of a reincorporation zone for former guerrillas in Icononzo  Tolima province  Colombi...
An aerial view of a reincorporation zone for former guerrillas in Icononzo, Tolima province, Colombia, on September 2, 2019
DANIEL MUNOZ, AFP

"We are reclaiming the lands to be able to work, so we can get rural reform," he said, referring to one of the pact's most ambitious promises, but which, according to the US-based Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies monitoring implementation, still falls far short.

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