Colombia is seeking the extradition from Spain of a man reportedly known as "The Nurse" within the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who allegedly carried out up to 500 forced abortions on female fighters in the group.
Héctor Arboleda was arrested on Saturday in Madrid, fulfilling an international arrest warrant sought by Colombia where he is wanted to face charges of aggravated torture, and carrying out abortions without consent.
The day before the arrest the Colombian attorney general's office announced that an investigation was underway into long-standing allegations that the FARC requires female members to abort so that neither pregnancy nor motherhood impacts their ability to fight, or desire to stay in the group. The rebels are widely reported to carry out terminations late in pregnancies and, some say, under threat of execution.
"We currently have statements from 39 victims, 150 proven cases, and a lot more on the way that could reach at least 500 illegal abortions," Luis González León, the Colombian investigator in charge of the case, told a press conference after the arrest of Arboleda was announced.
González said that Arboleda — who was reportedly known as "The Nurse" within the rebel group — participated in the pressure and that the majority of the women obliged to end their pregnancies were indigenous and underage. He added that the medic was trained in Cuba before joining the FARC and primarily operated in rebel-controlled territories in Colombia's western Pacific and neighbouring highland coffee-growing regions between 1998 and 2000.
The rebel group — that is currently in peace negotiations with the government — has not yet commented on the investigation or the arrest of Arboleda, but has previously denied forcing members to have abortions. The group has claimed such procedures are not necessary because contraception is available.
Women make up about a third of the FARC's approximately 7,000 fighters, according to government estimates.
One former FARC combatant who recently left the rebels, and who talked to VICE News on condition his name not be published, said guerrillas must seek permission from their superiors before starting a sexual relationship, and that it is always clear that forming a family is forbidden.
"If they have a baby they won't want to stay," the ex-guerrilla said. "So they make them have an abortion and they stay. They do it six or eight months into the pregnancy."
The arrest of 'The Nurse' comes on the eve of an expected deal between the government and the rebels over how victims will be acknowledged and compensated after a peace accord is ultimately signed. The two parties have been negotiating in Havana, Cuba since November 2012 and in September this year said they hope to sign a deal by March 2016.
Colombia's five-decade-long internal conflict between leftist rebel groups, the government and state-aligned paramilitaries, has killed over 220,000 people and displaced around six million.
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