Colombia’s FARC agrees to remove child soldiers from ranks
HAVANA – Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoColombia’s Marxist FARC rebels agreed May 15 to remove child soldiers from their ranks as part of the peace deal they are close to signing with the government.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to “implement departure of those under 15 years of age as soon as terms are agreed upon,” the parties said in a statement from Cuba, which is hosting peace negotiations.
Terms must still be set on how the children will be transitioned and reintegrated back into society.
Talks remain underway over the fate of FARC members between the ages of 15 and 18, as well as those under the age of 15 involved in war crimes, the statement said.
News of the agreement comes as the FARC and representatives of the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos negotiate terms of a definitive cease-fire, one of the last major points before a peace deal can be struck to end Latin America’s longest-running civil war.
“We reached a historic agreement in Havana to get children out of the war,” Santos wrote on Twitter, adding that the youths would be sent back to their families.
Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said the agreement was “a crucial advance in the process of putting a full stop to the war.”
The two sides did not immediately state how many minors would be exiting the FARC’s ranks.
The 7,000-strong FARC said that they never wanted to recruit children to fight, but did accept into their ranks orphans and victims of domestic abuse.
Many of the group’s adult fighters joined when they were minors.
The guerrillas said separately that 21 FARC members under the age of 15 had already been released.
On the same day, Colombian police said they seized their largest domestic haul ever of illegal drugs: eight tons of cocaine from the Usuga Clan, the country’s leading organized crime ring.
“Congratulations @PoliciaColombia: operation in Turbo seized the greatest amount in our history,” President Santos announced on Twitter.
Police said in a statement that early May 15 in Turbo, in the northwestern Uraba region near the border with Panama, they found the cache “of almost eight tons of cocaine belonging to the Usuga Clan,” that was hidden on a banana plantation.
Three suspects were arrested and another three escaped, the statement read.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said that nearly 1.5 tons of cocaine was wrapped “and ready to go out to the export market.”
He said this was the largest seizure ever of cocaine on Colombian territory, though there may have been slightly larger cocaine seizures at sea.
Authorities say the Usuga Clan, which emerged after the mass demobilization of right-wing paramilitaries a decade ago, ships tons of cocaine from Colombia to Central America and on to the United States.
The South American country is the leading producer of coca, the raw material from which cocaine is processed.