Inside the jungle: When a Colombian newspaper went into a camp of the country's largest rebel group

Inside the jungle: When a Colombian newspaper went into a camp of the country's largest rebel group

Colombian government officials are finalizing a deal with militant group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) as they prepare to make the last push in reaching a final agreement with the group after having been negotiating a peace deal since November 2012. The agreement would put an end to a conflict dating back to the 1960s when the militant group was formed.

As negotiations continue in Havana, Cuba, between government delegates and high-ranking FARC officials, the armed group’s members anxiously await new developments entrenched in the forests of the Andean jungles of Colombia. A recent reportage from a local news outlet from Medellin, El Colombiano, took a closer look at one of the many blocs of the armed group.

Settled in the Northern Andean forests of the state of Antioquia, the Frente 18 (Front #18 in English) of FARC is responsible for controlling and influencing the region known as “El Nudo de Paramillo,” a natural reservoir extending over 246,000 hectares. The Front was established in 1983 and soon became one of the most violent in the area, claiming hundreds of deaths against the civilian population and Colombian military.

The bloc was responsible for numerous attacks in the region, including murders, raids and destructions of local police stations in various municipalities, and planting landmines throughout the area. Their latest attack dates back to June 9, 2015, when they unsuccessfully attempted to detonate explosives in a police station in the small town of Ituango.

However, things have changed in recent months as negotiations in Havana advance. The group has ceased any criminal activity until further notice, and has shifted its focus on other tasks. The militia received instructions to stop combat training, resupplying ammunition and purchasing weapons. “Daniela,” a member of the Front, explained in El Colombiano’s interview how her daily routine has changed in the past three years, stating that “before we spent time in military training and planning attacks, now we use it to study and breathe.” Like her, many others in the group now dedicate their time to leisure activities like dancing, walking or reading.

As the members of Frente 18 await further updates from talks in Havana, they think of their families and hope of meeting them once this process comes to an end. “When this is all over, all I want to do is see my daughter again,” another member of the militia told El Colombiano.

When asked about the peace talks in Cuba, members of the Front claimed they are willing to turn their weapons in once the Final Agreement is signed. “We follow orders,” Franklin Gutierrez, one of the oldest rebels in the bloc, said. “If they [FARC officials] want me working in the city, I will go, and if I’m needed in the countryside (…) leading the revolutionary movement, (…) I will stay,” he added in reference to what the future hold after a peace treaty is signed.

In the past 50 years, too much blood has been spilled in Colombia’s armed conflict, and the militants from Front 18 claim that it is time to put an end to the situation. As one rebel said, “I would tell a soldier that we are brothers, we are sons of a nation, [we are] the same (…) and that we have both been wrong fighting against each other.”

Cover credit: Cartoonstock.com

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