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Jailed Colombian Rebels Turn Away From FARC


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, what do Mrs. Dalloway and brain research have in common? But first, in Colombia, the government has delivered one blow after another against the FARC rebel group. FARC has lost top commanders and just recently, of course, its most prized hostages, in a daring army rescue. Now the guerrilla group faces another challenge: dissension within its own ranks from jailed rebels. NPR's Juan Forero reports from Bogota.

JUAN FORERO: Guards open heavy doors to one of the cell blocks in La Picota prison, home to hundreds of rebels. They are men accused of murder, kidnapping, bomb making. For years they fought for the FARC, Latin America's only major insurgency. Despite being behind bars many continued to do what they could to help in the FARC's long, armed struggle, helping rebels on the outside plot insurrection.


Now, hundreds of them are calling it quits. They have formed a group called Hands for Peace. It's made up of 1,000 rebels jailed across the country. They've signed statements renouncing their FARC membership, and they pledge to never go back to the rebel group.

Among the leaders is Raul Agudelo, a former commander known for his role in kidnappings and killings. He's been in La Picota four years, serving a sentence that could go more than 30 years.

Mr. RAUL AGUDELO (Leader, Hands for Peace): (Through Translator) The FARC has big investments in jails, and the FARC wants to regroup those thousands qualified combatants and reactivate them in their positions. We're saying today that we don't want to go.

FORERO: FARC commanders in the jungle have been obsessed with trading hostages for jailed rebels. The guerrilla organization has been losing hundreds of rebels every month, killed in combat or deserting in droves. They've told the government they want to secure the release of those who are in jail. The government is acting to remove that possibility by offering jailed guerrillas incentives to renounce their rebel ties. The deal is this: give authorities all the help they need to dismantle FARC units, locate hostages or find rebel assets. In exchange, a long prison term is replaced by a much shorter one. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos sees it as a way of winning the PR War.

Mr. JUAN MANUEL SANTOS (Defense Minister, Columbia): The fact that these people don't want to go back to fighting is a tremendous blow to a FARC, that their own members that are in jail say to the world, we don't want to go back.


FORERO: Of course, there are hundreds of rebels in Colombia's jails who remain loyal to the FARC. Agudelo, the jailed guerrilla, says that's what the FARC expects.

Mr. AGUDELO: (Through Translator) They're qualified, organized people who know a lot about explosives, combat techniques and urban warfare.

FORERO: But activist supportive of the dissident guerrillas say that as more and more receive lenient terms, more and more will defect and further weaken the FARC. That's the message from Leduines Sumpole(ph). She's a Dutch rights activist who helped create Hands for Peace.

Ms. LEDUINES SUMPOLE(ph) (Dutch Right Activist; Creator, Hands for Peace): It's very threatening because it's in a movement - absolutely a peaceful result of spending a bullet without spending one human life.

FORERO: Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran told NPR that his office is now reviewing requests for leniency from jailed rebels, and his investigators are eager to receive as many requests as possible. So far, about 244 jailed rebels have applied for the benefits, and justice ministry officials have approved 168. There are many more to go but the trend is clearly opening another way out for guerrillas tired of a long and brutal conflict. Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.