PONDORES, Colombia – The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s oldest and largest insurgency, formally ceased to an armed movement here Tuesday with the handover of the last of their weapons to the United Nations.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos joined the head of the UN Mission, Jean Arnault, as the diplomat locked a container holding rebel arms and ordnance.
The ceremony took place in one of the “normalization” zones, known collectively as the ZVTN, where 7,000 FARC combatants are gathered for the demobilization process.
Santos then watched the departure of the truck carrying the container to a warehouse at an undisclosed location in central Colombia where the weapons will be rendered unusable.
“Today, in fact, is the last gasp of that conflict,” the president said in the northern town of Pondores. “The conflict is truly ending and a new phase begins in the life of our nation.”
“We say goodbye to the guns of the FARC ... the FARC officially disappears as an armed group, they are now Colombian citizens without weapons,” he said.
With the completion of the FARC disarmament, the ZVTN become centers where the former combatants are to receive job training and other assistance to ease their return to civilian life.
Following the ceremony, the rebel second-in-command, Ivan Marquez, discussed the organization’s transition from an insurgency to a legal political party that will continue to be known by the acronym FARC.
“We will soon be holding the founding congress of the new political party, which will certainly be called the Revolutionary Alternative Force of Colombia. We don’t want to break the links with our past. We have been, and will continue being, a revolutionary force,” Marquez said.
He also reminded his comrades of the recent murders of two unarmed FARC auxiliaries after they were publicly identified as members of the group.
“We don’t want there to be more destruction of opposition political alternatives,” he said, alluding to the extermination in 1985-1990 of thousands of members of Union Patriotica, an above-ground political party created by the FARC.
Colombian security forces have presented plans they say will prevent a repeat of the Union Patriotica experience.
Arnault said that the FARC turned over more than 8,112 guns, nearly 1.3 million rounds of ammunition, roughly 4,000 hand grenades, 22 tons of explosives along with substantial quantities of mortar shells and anti-personnel mines.
The decommissioned weapons are to be melted down and made into three monuments, one of which will stand at UN headquarters in New York and another in Havana, the venue for the peace talks.
The third monument will be placed at a still-to-be-determined site in Colombia.