The FARC rebel group has declared that it will continue to kidnap members of the Colombian security forces, and announced that it would enforce a strike in west Colombia in a show of strength as peace talks take place in Cuba.
We reserve the right to take prisoner members of the security forces who surrender in combat. They are called prisoners of war, and this happens in every conflict around the world.
The group said that it had repeatedly tried to organize prisoner swaps, but the government had rejected their approaches, as El Espectador reported.
The statement follows the kidnapping of two police officers in the western Valle del Cauca province on January 25, allegedly carried out by the FARC.
In another move calculated to show their strength, the rebels have warned that they will enforce an “armed strike” on the border between the departments of Choco and Risaralda in the northwest of the country, for 20 days starting February 1. Men on motorbikes have reportedly been distributing leaflets in the area, warning of the action. These “strikes” normally involve shutting down transport and often businesses in a section of the country by threatening to attack anyone who uses the roads or waterways. El Diario del Otun published an image of one of the flyers — see above.
These actions by the FARC, coming days after the end of a two-month unilateral ceasefire, appear to be designed to remind the Colombian government of the threat that the group can pose to the country.
The main aim of an armed strike is to demonstrate the group’s power over the civilian population. The FARC last employed this tactic in November, with a ban on movement in Choco. Other armed groups have also used this tool, with the Urabeños gang declaring a strike on the Caribbean coast in January 2012 after their leader was killed by the security forces.
The declaration that the FARC will continue kidnapping members of the armed forces comes as a disappointment after the rebel group released all of the soldiers and police known to be in their power last year, before peace talks officially began. Some of the men had been held for 14 years. However, it does not contradict the group’s statement that it would cease kidnapping of civilians for ransom.
The FARC’s argument that their hostages are legitimate prisoners of war is undermined by the fact that the rebels do not meet their obligations to hold these individuals in decent conditions.