Over 100 individuals who self-identified as FARC militias have handed themselves over to authorities in Colombia, raising the issue of how to properly incorporate this subset of the guerrilla army into their ongoing demobilization process.
On March 27, 117 people who said they were militias with the Daniel Aldana Mobile Column of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) turned themselves over to army officials in the city of Tumaco, situated in the southwest corner of Colombia. They were dressed in uniforms and carried weapons as well as communication equipment, which they handed over to the authorities, reported El Espectador.
The army announced that it will attempt to determine whether the individuals are in fact FARC militias. The guerrilla leadership will then make it's own decision on the same issue, according to El Espectador. Most FARC soldiers are gathered in the 26 concentration zones established as a result of the peace agreement between the guerrilla group and the Colombian government, which was ratified by Congress last November. FARC militias were not required to enter the concentration zones but were supposed to register themselves with the state in order to be part of the demobilization process.
The alleged militia members handed themselves in following dialogue with community leaders in Tumaco, reported Colombian news agency Colprensa.
At the beginning of the year, 117 members of the Daniel Aldana Mobile Column declared they were against the peace process, and were from that point forward considered to be dissidents.
InSight Crime Analysis
Militia members carry out various functions for the FARC and sometimes operate independently, making it difficult to determine who is and who is not a militia. Estimates vary widely -- the government says there are between 2,000 and 7,000 militias, but the Colombian non-governmental organization the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliación) has put that figure at closer to 13,000. Although the militias were required to register in order to have access to the judicial benefits that come with the peace agreement, there could be thousands of unregistered militias still in the field.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC Peace
The challenge of identifying militia members becomes even more complicated in a place like Tumaco, where several armed groups are battling for control of drug routes. According to El Espectador, the FARC was surprised by the news of the militias handing themselves in and suspect they could be members of a criminal organization in disguise.
Given the size of the FARC's militia ranks, identifying these individuals and integrating them into the demobilization process will be an arduous but crucial task for the authorities as well as the rebel group if they hope to make a clean break from the past.