By Richard McColl
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) – As many as 170 minors in the rank and file of the FARC guerrilla group will be handed over to the government before any final agreement is signed between the two sides, Colombia’s defense minister said Thursday.
“The history of recruitment of minors in the Colombian conflict is very sad and fortunately in the FARC’s case this activity is coming to an end with their announcement that the first 20 individuals aged 15 years of age will be released soon,” Luis Carlos Villegas said during a press conference.
This announcement follows agreements reached Sunday, in Havana, where members of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been involved in peace dialogues since November 2012, that the rebel group would begin to turn over 15-year-old combatants.
On Thursday, representatives of the government arrived in Cuba to begin the coordination of the transfer of the guerrillas from their camps to the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF).
“The historical figures are very telling. Of the 57,000 demobilized combatants which have been catalogued between 2002 and 2016, a total of 4,419 were minors, and out of these 2,890 belonged to the FARC,” according to Villegas. “By the same measure there are 9,215 combatants who demobilized as adults who were all recruited as minors.”
The guerrilla group has committed to providing information about and the identification of the minors.
When the agreement was reached Sunday, rebel spokesperson Ivan Marquez claimed that the FARC had no more than 21 combatants of 15 years of age in their camps.
The issue of how many minors remain in rebel camps or who have been recruited during the course of the decades-long conflict remains disputed.
According the reports produced by the ICBF, from the 6,000 children to have demobilized in the last few years, 60 percent had been recruited by the FARC.
In addition, the Colombia Attorney General’s Office estimate 11,556 minors have been recruited by armed groups in the country between 1975 and 2014.
“All minors in the war are victims,” Paula Gaviria, the presidential adviser for human rights said before leaving for Cuba to oversee the talks for the hand over of the children.