Colom­bian rebel leader shies away from dead­line to end war

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY JOSHUA GOOD­MAN

In a land­mark tele­vi­sion in­ter­view, the rarely seen leader of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC) reaf­firmed the com­mit­ment of Latin Amer­ica’s old­est in­sur­gency to aban­don the bat­tle­field even while shy­ing from a six-month dead­line to sign a fi­nal peace ac­cord.

Ro­drigo Lon­dono said he has al­ways con­sid­ered him­self an “en­emy” of putting ar­ti­fi­cial dates on ne­go­ti­a­tions, fear­ing it could back­fire against the rebels if a tar­get is missed. But he said he even­tu­ally was per­suaded to put aside those ob­jec­tions and join San­tos in mak­ing a pledge to reach a fi­nal deal by March be­cause he trusts the pres­i­dent, who he called an “ally of peace.”

“If there’s po­lit­i­cal will, we can do it ear­lier, but six months may also be too short,” Lon­dono said in his first in­ter­view since peace talks be­gan in Cuba three years ago.

The in­ter­view aired Tues­day night was as sig­nif­i­cant for its very ex­is­tence than any rev­e­la­tions made by the nor­mally se­cre­tive Lon­dono, who is bet­ter known by the alias Ti­mochenko.

Un­til last week, when he shook hands with Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos in Ha­vana to an­nounce a break­through agree­ment on the thorny is­sue of pun­ish­ment for war crimes dur­ing a half-cen­tury of fight­ing, the vet­eran guer­rilla com­man­der had been some­thing of a sphinx to Colom­bians. When he was seen at all, it was only in video­taped mes­sages from the jun­gle bat­tle­field dressed in mil­i­tary fa­tigues and rail­ing against Colom­bia’s U.S.-backed “oli­garchy.”

But in a speech along­side San­tos and again in the in­ter­view aired Tues­day with Venezue­lan­based net­work Telesur Lon­dono tired to cast a softer im­age, wear­ing a white guayabera shirt and sport­ing his trade­mark salt- and- pep­per beard neatly groomed.

In a heav­ily edited con­versa- tion with a left­ist for­mer Colom­bian sen­a­tor, Piedad Cor­doba, Lon­dono rem­i­nisced ro­man­ti­cally about his de­ci­sion to run off with the rebels while still a teenager 40 years ago. And he spoke of a de­sire to one day re­turn to the cof­fee- grow­ing town where he was raised by a peas­ant com­mu­nist fa­ther and de­vout Catholic mother.

Asked if he would ask the FARC’s many vic­tims for for­give­ness, Lon­dono said tac­ti­cal “er­rors” in the heat of bat­tle were made on all sides, but he had noth­ing to apol­o­gize for.

“Who­ever asks for for­give­ness it’s be­cause they re­gret some­thing, and I don’t re­gret any- thing,” he said.

The rebel leader also played down spec­u­la­tion that some of the FARC’s es­ti­mated 6,500 troops would not ad­here to a peace ac­cord. Crit­ics say many for­mer fight­ers will ded­i­cate them­selves to drug traf­fick­ing and ex­tor­tion, lu­cra­tive ac­tiv­i­ties the group uses to fund its in­sur­gency, in­stead of hand­ing over their weapons for an un­cer­tain fu­ture in which they’ll be re­quired to con­fess their abuses to spe­cial tri­bunals.

“I give you my full as­sur­ances, that there’s not a sin­gle guer­rilla, nei­ther com­man­der or com­bat­ant, that’s in dis­agree­ment,” said Lon­dono.

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