Ex-Colombian rebels take up seats in congress

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos gives a speech during the swearing in ceremony of a new congress, which includes former members of the FARC who were given ten seats as part of the 2016 peace process, in Bogota, Colombia. — Reuters photo

BOGOTA: Former leftist guerrillas in Colombia took up seats Friday in a congress dominated by conservatives opposed to a peace accord that ended a 50 year war and provided for the ex-guerrillas’ representation in the legislature.

Under a 2016 accord that ended the conflict, five seats each in the upper and lower chambers have been set aside for members of the FARC, a rebel army turned legal political party, although it only occupied eight of them.

Outgoing president Jose Manuel Santos presided over a ceremony in which all new lawmakers elected in May elections took up their seats.

“Here they are, for the first time, five senators and five representatives of Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, born of the demobilization and disarmament of the FARC,” Santos said, alluding to the name of the FARC political party, which has the same acronym in Spanish as the rebel army.

But former FARC rebel commander Ivan Marquez declined to take up his designated seat in the Senate Friday, in part because a fellow former rebel leader, Jesus Santrich, who also has a congressional seat reserved for him, has been arrested and jailed and is wanted by the US on drug trafficking charges.

The peace accord, for which Santos won the Nobel peace prize, has deeply divided Colombians, with conservatives saying it goes too easy on the former rebels.

In the May election Santos, who could not seek another term, was succeeded by the right-wing politician Ivan Duque, who has vowed to amend the accord, calling it too lenient toward the rebels.

The ex-rebel delegation got an icy reception from Duque’s party, the Democratic Center, as they took up their seats. It is led by former president Alvaro Uribe, a fierce critic of the outgoing president and the peace accord.

“Congress with people convicted of atrocious crimes, without paying reparations, without fulfilling symbolic sanctions,” Uribe said in a tweet posted just as Santos was speaking.

“In Colombia, growing crime and criminal reorganisation of FARC. Peace in appearance only,” he added.

In a light moment of the inaugural congressional session, a Green party senator who opposes the incoming government, Antanas Mockus, walked up to the podium where the outgoing conservative senate president was giving a speech, turned around, dropped his pants and flashed his naked buttocks.

Mockus, a former Bogota mayor and former presidential candidate, later dressed himself and returned to his seat. The speaker, Efrain Cepeda, called him to order and kept talking.

Duque is to take office Aug 7.

The peace accord was reached after four years of negotiations in Cuba.

The FARC were Latin America’s last major rebel group.

Some 260,000 people were killed, 60,000 disappeared and 6.9 million displaced during the 53-year conflict. — AFP

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