By Julia Symmes Cobb
BOGOTA (Reuters) – Leaders from the now-demobilized FARC rebels on Friday accepted responsibility for tens of thousands of kidnappings during their group’s part in Colombia’s long internal conflict.
Some 13,000 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) demobilized under a 2016 peace deal with the government. The group became a political party called Comunes.
Under the accord, former rebels must provide information to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunal about crimes committed during the conflict, including murders, kidnappings, sexual violence and forced evictions.
Acknowledgement of crimes can lead to lesser sentences.
The FARC “clearly assumes responsibility for kidnappings which took place and explicitly recognizes the suffering inflicted unjustifiably on victims…their families, friends and of course all of Colombian society,” Comunes official Carlos Antonio Lozada told a virtual news conference.
Hostages suffered “precarious and difficult” conditions, added Lozada, who serves in the senate in a seat guaranteed by the peace deal.
Between 1990 and 2015, 21,396 people were kidnapped or taken hostage by the FARC, according to tribunal figures.
The comments came as the group turned in an official response to the JEP, which in January accused eight FARC leaders of responsibility for war crimes connected to kidnappings.
It was official FARC policy to take hostages in order to raise funds through ransom, pressure the government to conduct hostage exchanges, control territory and gain advantages by capturing security force members, Lozada said.
Some victims suffered sexual violence at the hands of FARC captors, Lozada acknowledged, though he said mistreatment was officially banned.
The group will continue to give information to help find remains of hostages who died captive, he added.
Former rebels who give full information about crimes to the tribunal may eventually face restrictions on their freedom for five to eight years. Those who do not or who lie could be sentenced for up to 20 years in prison.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)