Colombian rebels 'waiting for army'

Chris Brady cdbrady at
Wed Feb 27 09:09:44 MST 2002

Colombian rebels 'waiting for army'
Camps empty, but soldiers stay in towns
Miami Herald, Posted on Tue, Feb. 26, 2002

LAS DELICIAS, Colombia -- At a remote, dusty outpost about 180 miles
south of Bogotá, the fighters stand ready for war, rifles slung over
their shoulders.

One carries remote control devices he claims are to set off explosives.
The other hauls electrical wires whose purpose he declines to clarify.
They are the unpaid rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, the guerrillas Colombia's army is pursuing in this huge former
noncombat zone.

''We're here waiting for the army. We're not hiding,'' said the FARC
commander, who identified himself as El Pija. ``They have their orders
to attack, and we have orders to defend. That's the training we have and
the instructions we have.''

Colombia has been at war for almost 40 years, but rarely like this. For
nearly a week, the civil conflict here has included airstrikes and the
deployment of 13,000 government troops into a zone the government handed
over to its enemy and now wants back.

The army commander, Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora, said troops have taken over
the five cities inside the 16,000-square mile former rebel stronghold
since peace talks collapsed Wednesday. But a jaunt through that
territory shows no army soldiers beyond the urban centers, and only
remnants of a guerrilla force that was deep in the jungle carefully
monitoring the news, learning to read and preparing for war.


El Pija and his men are a few of the 17,500 FARC soldiers hiding in the
jungle or mingling in the cities, dodging falling bombs. Many of the
rebel troops are deployed outside the zone.

''It's true that we left most of our camps,'' El Pija said. ``What we
were going to be all concentrated in one place for? So they could strike

In Las Delicias, 15 miles east of El Pija's guard post, the FARC left
behind the Joaquín Gómez camp, likely abandoned in a hurry last
Wednesday, when a guerrilla hijacking of a domestic airliner led
President Andrés Pastrana to order air strikes.

Gómez was one of the FARC's negotiators, who for the past three years
tried to solve the decades-long conflict. The site of the talks, a camp
called La Nueva Colombia, has been abandoned too; the fax machine left

While Gómez sat at that negotiating table, the FARC used the jungle zone
-- given to them in hopes of promoting peace -- to prepare for war. Left
behind were notebooks where illiterate soldiers were taught both their
ABCs and the physics of ground-to-air artillery.

In one school notebook, a circus cat on its cover, a guerrilla
calculated how to shoot down a moving helicopter: this speed, plus that
distance, equals that much ammo.

Their camp was a crude place in the countryside where men slept on beds
built of wooden slats and passed the time by carving toy machine guns
out of lumber. Pictures of attractive women clipped from Cosmo magazine
were plastered about.

They trained in a rudimentary, homemade obstacle course, complete with
dumbbells fashioned out of concrete blocks. A five-foot deep ditch
surrounded the place.


The barracks appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry; the outdoor
mess hall was covered with flour from broken sacks scattered about.
Although wired for TV and cable, the equipment was gone.

They did leave behind the outdated Semana weekly magazine in which
rebels had defaced the photographs of U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson and
former Culture Minister Consuelo Araújo.

Araújo was kidnapped on Sept. 24 and shot in the head. Hers was among
the 1,000 annual killings the Defense Ministry attributed to the FARC in

President Pastrana declared an end to peace talks when, by government
count, the rebels carried out 117 different FARC attacks, including 22
murders, over a period of 30 days.

The soldiers at the guard post were quick to defend the ideals their
army claims to represent: education, jobs, social justice. When asked
about civilian bombings, murders and abductions, or last week's
hijacking of a domestic airliner, they simply said they were uninformed.

''We didn't have any other way to live,'' stated Faiver, one of the
soldiers at the post. ``We had to join the FARC. There were no jobs.
There was no money. I feel sure of what I am: a guerrilla.''

El Pija was adamant: ''Understand that we are not here to defend
territory,'' he said.

``We defend principles.''

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