Colombia: ICRC prepares for release of two soldiers held by FARC

24-03-2010 Interview

The ICRC is preparing to facilitate the release of two soldiers currently held by FARC-EP and the handing over of the remains of a police officer who died in captivity. The head of the ICRC delegation in Bogotá, Christophe Beney, explains the role of the ICRC in this humanitarian action.


Christophe Beney, ICRC's head of delegation in Colombia    
     Why does the ICRC get involved with the release of detainees in Colombia?  

The ICRC plays a crucial role in protecting and assisting the victims of the armed conflict in Colombia, a conflict that has been going on for over 40 years. Our delegates in the field maintain confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict, with the aim of promoting humanitarian law and obtaining access to the worst-affected areas. FARC-EP ( Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo , Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army) and the ELN ( Ejército de Liberación Nacional , National Liberation Army) have recognized the ICRC as a neutral intermediary during a number of operations that resulted in the release of hundreds of detainees and hostages. In February 2009, two civilians and four members of the security forces regained their freedom thanks to the action of the ICRC and logistic support from the Brazilian government.

 In April 2009, FARC-EP announced that they were going to unilaterally release two soldiers and hand over the remains of a police officer who had died in captivity. Why has the process taken so long?  

This type of process often becomes politicized, adding to the complexity of the humanitarian operation. In this particular case, obtaining the agreement of the parties and generating the necessary momentum proved complex. As soon as FARC-EP announced that they were willing to release the soldiers and hand over the body of the major of police, the ICRC started discreet discussions with each of the parties, with the aim of bringing them closer together. In view of the successful operation carried out in 2009, the ICRC also spoke to the Brazilian government, which once again offered logistic support.

 What role is the ICRC playing in the current preparations?  

When the ICRC learned of FARC-EP's communiqué, the organization announced that it was prepared to offer its good offices as a neutral intermediary and that it would be prepared to coordinate the logistics of the oper ation, in close cooperation with all parties involved. On several occasions, the ICRC met the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, the Brazilian ambassador, Senator Piedad Córdoba and other members of the Commission of Colombians for Peace, plus representatives of the Church, in order to ensure smooth communication and address the logistics and security aspects of the operation.

As a result of this process, the parties involved decided to sign a security protocol on 12 March. We now hope that in the next few days we will be able to fly Corporal Pablo Emilio Moncayo and Private Josué Daniel Calvo to freedom, and to hand over the body of Major Julián Guevara of the Colombian police to his family, using two Brazilian helicopters bearing the ICRC logo.

Once the ICRC receives more precise details concerning the handover location, we will notify to the ministry of defence an area within which military operations are to be suspended for 36 hours in order to guarantee the security of all concerned and the success of the mission.

 FARC-EP has announced that this will be the last unconditional release they will be undertaking, and that the people they still hold will be released under an agreement with the government. What is the ICRC's view on this?  

In recent years the Colombian government and FARC-EP have mentioned via various intermediaries the possibility of launching a " humanitarian exchange, " the object of which would be to swap police and military personnel held by FARC-EP for members of FARC-EP held by the government. For various reasons, this " humanitarian exchange " has not yet taken place.

The ICRC reiterates its readiness to help find mechanisms that will bring about the release of those members of the armed forces and the police who are still detained in connection with the ar med conflict.

 What else is the ICRC doing in Colombia?  

The ICRC has been in Colombia since 1969. Currently, we have 13 offices, 65 expatriate delegates and some 300 Colombian staff. We undertake a range of protection and assistance activities in the rural areas worst affected by the armed conflict, where government services are very limited.

Multidisciplinary ICRC teams regularly operate in some 20 remote areas particularly affected by the conflict, where they endeavour to maintain contact with the security forces and the various armed groups. The purpose of these contacts is to promote compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

During 2010, the ICRC will continue to help the victims of anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war and to offer them rehabilitation services. We will also be working to clarify the fate of people missing in connection with the conflict. The situation of people displaced by the armed conflict and by other forms of violence will remain one of the ICRC's top priorities, and we will continue our programme to help displaced individuals and groups.