The murder of an ex-guerrilla in a Colombian reintegration camp has bolstered fears that the security of demobilized FARC fighters remains unassured, even at sites built to protect them.
On October 24, Alexander Parra, a former guerrilla who had served for 30 years within the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), was reportedly murdered by a masked gunman at the Mesetas reintegration camp, in the central department of Meta. While at least 158 former combatants have been killed since the 2016 peace agreement was signed, Parra was the first to be assassinated within one of these zones, known as Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (Espacios Territoriales de Capacitación y Reincorporación – ETCR).
The murder of Parra, the husband of a local candidate for the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC) political party, shocked former combatants. Following this incident, President Iván Duque ordered security reinforcements to the ETCRs. But the damage to their reputation may have already been done.
There are currently 24 ETCR camps, housing more than 3,000 former FARC fighters. They were implemented as part of the 2016 peace agreement between Colombia’s government and the FARC to provide a space for former fighters to transition into civilian life.
The mandate for the camps — which were meant to be temporary — expired in August, but the government later announced that the spaces would be transformed into permanent facilities.
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On September 9, 2019, the government launched Decree 1629, which added functions to the Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization (Agencia para la Reincorporación y para la Normalización – ARN), the body in charge of reintegrating former guerrillas. The new functions included managing property that requires public forces, as well as the goods and services for those spaces.
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The ETCR camps, which are supposed to offer peace and security, are now in legal limbo amid a crumbling peace process. Ex-combatants living within them have reason to doubt that the camps can guarantee their safety.
While the government did issue a new decree for ETCRs in August, it did not provide many concrete answers. It did not specify a new date for when the camps’ status would expire, nor did it establish a plan for their future usage and administration.
While the government has floated the idea that the camps would be converted into permanent settlements, this will not always be possible. Last May, it was announced that 11 ETCRs, close to half the total, would have to be relocated as they are currently in special zones where permanent villages are not possible.
And the government decree did not clarify whether the ARN would be in charge of finding new homes for the camps. This has only worsened unease among the communities that have turned these camps into their homes.
Uncertainty also surrounds the continued funding for the public forces that maintain security within the camps through the Police Unit for Peace Building (Unidad Policial para la Edificación de la Paz – UNIPEP), and the National Army’s Joint Strategic Transition Command (Conjunto Estratégico de Transición – CCOET).
Meanwhile, former fighters have questioned the ability of public forces to protect them. This was evident to InSight Crime during nationwide visits to these camps.
For example, at the ETCR La Carmelita, in Puerto Asís, Putumayo, former combatants complained of constant threats to their security. Additionally, in Mesetas, demobilized fighters told InSight Crime that there is a high level of distrust regarding the capacity of the public forces to guarantee their safety.
Such criticism will only be heightened after Parra’s killing. Parra was also an ARN employee, showing yet again that those engaged in the peace process remain in danger.
In the case of the ETCR in Vidrí in the department of Antioquia, the government said that the camp’s mission had been accomplished, leading to its closure. Authorities then appeared to disregard warnings that the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) was moving into the area at the end of 2017. In September 2019, the ELN took control of the area that the ETCR once occupied.
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