By CÉSAR GARCÍA, Associated Press
BOGOTÁ, Colombia (AP) — Ex-combatants with Colombia’s once largest guerrilla group turned over names and information Tuesday on several hundred people who went missing during the nation’s long civil conflict in a first step toward helping more families find closure.
The list was provided to a special unit tasked with finding the missing and contains details on 276 individuals, a small number compared to the more than 60,000 people believed to be disappeared during more than five decades of conflict.
Nonetheless, Luz Marina Monzón, the search group’s director, described it as an important “first step of many” that former combatants are making in compliance with Colombia’s historic 2016 peace accord. As part of the peace deal, rebels with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia promised to provide information on the scores who are still missing from the conflict between leftist guerrillas, paramilitaries and the state.
“We hope to find them and return them to their families,” Monzón said of the missing.
During the last two years, 71 ex-combatants have been collecting information on cases from 15 departments around the nation. Over half of the cases detailed by the rebels involve individuals who were members of illegal armed groups. Another quarter are civilians, while a very small number are members of the police or military.
Jaime Alberto Parra, a former rebel commander known as “The Doctor,” said the information provided Tuesday shows the ex-combatants’ commitment to the accord and called on the government to provide more resources.
“The suffering of families should be rectified,” he said.
The over 300-page peace accord calls for a three-pronged system to document the conflict and provide reparations to victims. The deal remains polemic in Colombia, where many feel the rebels were let off easy. Former combatants who fully confess to any crimes they committed during the conflict will avoid jail time.
Aside from the work of the Unit for the Search for Disappeared People, two other entities are tasked with shedding light on the atrocities. An independent truth commission is exploring why the conflict happened, what crimes were committed and how future bloodshed can be avoided. The Special Peace Tribunal will judge and hand out sentences for the most serious war crimes like kidnapping and civilian massacres.
In addition to the rebels, victim organizations are also providing information on the disappeared. In total, details on 624 cases have been provided.
Olga Esperanza Rojas has been waiting for nearly two decades to find out what happened to her husband, a soldier and father of two who was detained by guerrillas on his way to work and never heard from again.
She said the former rebels haven’t disclosed whether her husband’s name appears on their list, and she believes they’ve fallen short in disclosing everything they know.
“They haven’t given me any information,” she said. “They want to say they’re doing a lot but truthfully I don’t see it that way.”