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Wednesday 26 April 2017

President visits Colombian rebel group's camp

President Michael D Higgins is presented with a scarf from the Anori municipality as Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar looks on. Photo: Maxwells
President Michael D Higgins is presented with a scarf from the Anori municipality as Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar looks on. Photo: Maxwells

Ryan Nugent

President Michael D Higgins visited a jungle camp of the notorious Colombian Farc rebel group in the municipality of Anorí.

There was a couple of false starts as Mr Higgins was left waiting at a military base outside the city of Medellin due to heavy fog while the Colombian air force made attempts to transport him to the demobilised camp.

Just over two months ago, Colombia's largest rebel army and the Colombian government reached an agreement on a peace process for a conflict that has lasted more than five decades and claimed close to 250,000 lives.

When Mr Higgins eventually reached his destination, he shook hands and spoke with senior Farc commander Pastor Alape.

Pastor Alape is understood to have been a key member of the Farc negotiation team during meetings with the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba.

He has been a member of the Farc since the 1980s and is believed to have had a senior role in the trafficking of cocaine in north central Colombia.

Read more: 'We are so delighted to have the President of Ireland here' - Michael D Higgins' travelled by Blackhawk to FARC rebel army in Colombia jungle

Pastor Alape said the Farc drew inspiration from the Peace Process in Northern Ireland when going to the negotiation table.

"Their process has given us a lot of strength and perhaps it is a model for the giving up of arms. We've had a lot of exchanges of ideas and exchanges of experience and the Irish model has been very important for us in this process," he said.

"This is why we are so delighted to have the president of Ireland here," he said.

As part of the Colombian Peace Agreement, the 7,000 Farc members are undergoing a demobilisation phase and are being set up in 26 different rural assembly zones across the country - though they are currently still armed.

The disarming phase is due to begin in the coming weeks, while the removal of landmines around Farc areas is also ongoing.

In a rousing speech, Mr Higgins said the agreement made is just the beginning in Colombia and the whole of Ireland would support them all the way.

"Why I said it is a privilege to be here is to be witnessing these very necessary steps on a journey towards not just peace but all the benefits that lie beyond peace," Mr Higgins said.

"Ireland is proud to have played its own small part in relation to the peace process, but it is a participation that we intend to continue.

"It is always a proud ceremonial moment, but it is really only the beginning," he said.

Mr Higgins is due to give a keynote address on the Peace Agreement at the National University of Colombia later today.

Irish Independent

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