The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

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The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejercito del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - the People's Army) or FARC-EP was established in 1964 as the paramilitary wing of the Colombian Communist Party, and is Colombia's oldest, largest, most capable, and best-equipped insurgency. The FARC-EP is governed by a secretariat, led by septuagenarian Manuel Marulanda (Pedro Antonio Marín), a.k.a. "Tirofijo," and six others, including senior military commander Jorge Briceño, a.k.a. "Mono Jojoy." It is organized along military lines and includes several urban fronts. FARC has roughly 12,000 to 18,000 members and now maintains presence in approximately 35 to 40% of Colombian territory, mostly in the jungles of the southeast and the plains at the base of the Andes mountains. The "-EP" (Ejército del Pueblo) was added to the group's official name in 1982 during the Seventh Guerrilla Conference, as a sign of their expected progression from guerrilla warfare into conventional military action which was outlined in that occasion.

The FARC-EP claims that it represents the rural poor against Colombia's wealthy classes and opposes the United States influence in Colombia (particularly, but not limited to, Plan Colombia), the privatization of natural resources, multinational corporations, and rightwing paramilitary violence.

Critics of the FARC-EP often characterize the group as a terrorist organization. There is strong evidence that it, like the right-wing paramilitary groups that the Colombian government and military have been closely affiliated with (e.g. AUC), has attacked and kidnapped civilian targets and also frequently recruits children as soldiers and informants. The United States Department of State includes FARC on its list of foreign terrorist organizations, as does the European Union.

Activities

The FARC-EP has employed bombings, killings, landmines, kidnapping, extortion, hijacking, as well as guerrilla and conventional military action against Colombian political, military, and economic targets, and attacks on those it considers a threat to its movement (it has not been uncommon for civilians to die due to many of these actions). In March 1999, the FARC-EP killed three United States Indian rights activists on Venezuelan territory after kidnapping them in Colombia. The FARC-EP is responsible for most of the ransom kidnappings in Colombia; the group targets wealthy landowners, foreign tourists, and prominent international and domestic officials. The FARC is believed to have ties to narcotics traffickers, principally through the provision of armed protection. Brazilian druglord Fernandinho Beira-Mar was captured in Colombia on April 20-21 2001 while in the company of FARC-EP guerrillas. Colombian and Brazilian authorities have claimed that this constitutes proof of further cooperation between the FARC-EP and the druglord based on the exchange of weapons for cocaine, though Fernandinho himself and the FARC-EP have denied this. FARC itself has claimed that in their areas of influence the growth of coca plants (which while an enduring tradition in one form or another for centuries in the Colombian countryside for minoritary groups and especially by some of the indigenous communities, it had never reached its contemporary levels of plantation) by farmers would be taxed on the same basis as any other crop, even though there would be higher cash profits stemming from coca production and exportation.

Recent history

On September 4, 1996 the FARC-EP attacked a military base in Guaviare, Colombia which started three weeks of guerrilla warfare that claimed the lives of at least 130 Colombians.

In 1998, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana Arango granted FARC a 42,000 square kilometer safe haven which was the FARC-EP condition for beginning peace talks. The peace process with the government continued at a slow pace for three years during which the BBC and other news organizations reported that the FARC-EP also used the safe haven to import arms, export drugs, recruit minors, and build up their military. After a series of high-profile actions, including the kidnapping of a Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt (who was traveling in guerrilla territory) and other political figures, Pastrana ended the peace talks in February 2002 and ordered Colombian forces to start retaking the FARC-controlled zone after a 48-hour respite that had been previously agreed to with the rebel group.

As of 2002-2004, the FARC-EP is believed to be in a relative / temporary strategic withdrawal due to the increasing military and police actions of new hardline president Alvaro Uribe Velez, which has lead to the capture or desertion of many fighters and medium-level commanders, the most important of which has been that of alias "Simon Trinidad" in January of 2004, a former banker turned rebel, who had participated as a high-profile negotiator in the recent Pastrana peace talks.

An article in the respected Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo on June 12, 2004 reports that Guillermo León Sánchez (aka Alfonso Cano) has been elected commander in chief by the estado mayor central (central command), with the blessing of Manuel Marulanda Vélez.

In June 2004, 34 coca farmers were found bound hand and foot and shot with automatic weapons. Blame was immediately placed on the FARC-EP by the government, and after several days of uncertainty the FARC-EP claimed responsibility for the massacre, saying they had killed the farmers for being supporters of right-wing paramilitaries. The United Nations condemned the massacre as a war crime. [1]

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