Colombia’s efforts to bring former FARC rebels back into mainstream society are faltering, a senior UN official said Friday after returning from a trip to the South American country.
Under a historic peace deal reached last year, the rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia laid down their weapons and agreed to begin new lives as civilians.
“Although disarmament, demobilization has gone well the reintegration is not going so well,” said UN assistant secretary-general for human rights Andrew Gilmour.
“FARC fighters are coming back but there is nothing for them. There’s no activity for them,” Gilmour told reporters at UN headquarters.
After completing a first mission to oversee the disarming of FARC rebels, the United Nations in July established a second presence to help former combatants return to mainstream society.
“If you don’t reintegrate the fighters then there is a strong chance that they will go back to something worse, even if they’ve given up their weapons,” said Gilmour.
He cited evidence that a number of FARC fighters had joined criminal gangs because “they have not found alternative means of income for themselves and their families and there’s been a vacuum.”
“There is a danger that unless the state moves in to fill that vacuum, it will be filled by highly undesirable elements” such as crime rings involved in illegal mining and drugs, he added.
The human rights official said there was recognition in Colombia that the government must now invest heavily in the countryside and areas that were not under its control during the decades-long guerrilla war.
For decades, the FARC controlled areas where coca leaf and cocaine production flourished, but farmers in those areas will be given incentives to turn to other forms of agriculture.
The FARC has also launched a political party called the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force that will field candidates in next year’s general elections.
The FARC was formed in 1964 to fight for land rights and to protect rural communities.
The conflict drew in leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and state forces and has left 260,000 people dead, more than 60,000 missing and seven million displaced