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Childhood and War Crimes: Colombia Guerrilla Leader Gives Rare TV Interview

FARC leader says the group is completely committed to seeing the peace signed, and imagines returning to his home town once it is.
September 30, 2015, 7:45pm
Screenshot via YouTube

The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) underlined his commitment to the country's peace process in a rare TV interview this week in which he both insisted that all the group's fighters are fully on board and mused about visiting his parents' graves once the war is over.

"I assure you that there is not a single guerrilla, neither combatant nor commander, who has expressed any disagreement," Rodrigo Londoño said in the interview, broadcast on Venezuelan news broadcaster TeleSur on Tuesday night, referring to the recent acceleration of moves towards demobilization.

Londoño's TV appearance comes in the wake of his surprise presence in Havana last week where he shook hands with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to seal a breakthrough accord on post-war justice, seen as a major step towards a final deal in the peace negotiations that began three years ago.

Better known by his alias Timochenko, the leader of Latin America's longest running insurgency's previous appearances on camera have been largely limited to occasional videoed messages from rebel camps in the jungle, in which he was usually dressed in military fatigues.

Timochenko, however, put the bellicose image behind for this week's interview. Wearing a guayabera and smiling frequently, he answered questions sitting on a brown leather sofa during one section of the interview and at a patio table in another.

Colombia's civil war has killed more than 220,000 and forced millions from their homes since it began half a century ago. All sides in the conflict, including the military and paramilitary groups, have been accused of serious abuses against the civilian population.

Related: Paramilitaries Likely to Continue Terrorizing Colombia Even After a Peace Deal

The justice accord in Havana comes in the wake of other accords on political participation, land rights, and illicit crops. It is seen as particularly significant because it opens the possibility that combatants could face trial for war crimes in special courts, something that the FARC had previously refused to consider.

While mostly relaxed, Timochenko nevertheless bristled when asked if he should apologize for crimes committed by the guerrilla. "If you ask for forgiveness it is because you regret something," he said. "I don't regret anything."

The FARC leader whipped out a booklet from a black briefcase that he said outlined the group's internal justice system. He said the guerrilla group already has special courts to try combatants for such crimes as rape or murder.

He did, however, recognize that "mistakes" had been made within "the dynamic of war," and insisted that the FARC would "accept responsibility for our part in what happen."

While the interview emphasized the guerilla's commitment to seeing the peace process through, Timochenko appeared to question President Santo's pledge to have a final accord signed in six months time.

"If there is the political will, we could do it earlier," he said, "but six months may also be too short."

But Timochenko already appeared to be imagining what peace might feel like for him on a more personal level.

He recalled learning to read at the age of five and devouring the Marxist publications read by his communist father, a peasant who had taught himself to read. But the first book he ever read, the guerilla said, was a copy of the Bible bought for him by his devoutly religious mother.

"I would like to walk the streets of the town where I grew up and go and see the graves of my parents and my brother who was assassinated," he said of the coffee-producing town he left 40 years ago to join the FARC while he was still a teenager. "That would be among my first desires."

Related: 'False Positives': How Colombia's Army Executed Civilians And Called Them Guerrillas

Follow Jo Tuckman on Twitter: @jotuckman