Conflicts & War

Ex-militia chief stresses role of the state in Colombian conflict

Bogota, Aug 4 (EFE).- Government involvement in crimes committed during Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict was the main focus Wednesday as the former leaders of the right-wing militias and leftist FARC rebels appeared before a truth commission created in the hope of providing closure for the victims.

The commission, established by the 2016 peace accord between the government and the FARC, asked to hear from the one-time commander of the AUC militia federation, Salvatore Mancuso, and erstwhile guerrilla chief Rodrigo Londoño.

Speaking by video link from the prison in the United States where he is nearing the end of a sentence for drug trafficking, Mancuso sought to shed a light on the part played by the government in the origin of the militias.

He said that when he went to authorities for help after he and his neighbors had suffered at the hands of the guerrillas, the government’s response was to put a rifle in his hands.

“I stopped being Salvatore Mancuso and became ‘Santander Lozada’ and began to have accords with institutions, with the army, the DAS (the now-defunct intelligence service), with the police, even with prosecutors sympathetic to the cause of the militias to confront together the enemy of the nation,” he said.

Commission members asked Mancuso about the AUC’s participation in the murder of thousands of FARC militants who put down their guns in 1985 to form a legal political party called Union Patriotica.

“The UP was not exterminated by the militias, their great victimizer was the Colombian state,” he said. “The fear that Colombia would become another Cuba, that they would expropriate land from the politicians who lost the electoral contest and that the guerrillas would install that model, lead the state to do this.”

Though Mancuso has nearly completed his sentence in the US, he is likely to remain a prisoner for the foreseeable future, as both Colombia and his ancestral homeland of Italy are seeking his extradition on various charges.

Londoño, known by the nom de guerre “Timochenko” in his tenure as the last commander of the FARC before the insurgents laid down their arms in 2016, said that many former rebels remain haunted by crimes they committed during a struggle that began in the mid-1960s.

“What I will tell you is neither justification nor apology, it is only what happened years ago when we were actors in a war. I thank your generosity and nobility to allow us these spaces to tell the truth,” Mancuso said, while adding that the nature of the conflict precluded “unilateral truths.”

“It is a framework of situations that implies the voices of different groups. That composition is the only one that can provide a broad and real vision of what happened,” he said. EFE ime/dr

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