|Tanja Nijmeijer’s mother, right, visited her daughter in the Colombian jungle in 2005
[Picture courtesy of Pieter van Huystee]
A Dutch woman branded the Netherlands’ “one and only jungle guerilla” is thought to have been killed in last Wednesday’s Colombian army raid on a Farc camp.
Thirty-two year old Tanja Nijmeijer, who is believed to have been working as a personal assistant to senior Farc commander Jorge Briceno, was the subject of a documentary and a book. Nicknamed the “guerilla chick” by the Dutch press, she was thought to have been the only European member of the group.
Luduin Zumpolle, a Dutch human rights activist and Farc expert who lives in the Colombian capital Bogotá, co-authored the book about Nijmeijer and works with Hands for Peace – an organisation that strives to rehabilitate former Farc fighters.
She says former fighters often provided her with snippets of information about Nijmeijer’s whereabouts and wellbeing, but the “last time I heard about her was three weeks ago. She was still working alongside Mono Jojoy [Briceno’s nickname and the name of forest-dwelling worm].”
“She is most likely among the 100 or so Farc fighters who were killed in the attack,” Zumpolle says.
The camp, described by Rodrigo Rivera, Colombia’s defence minister, as “the mother of all Farc camps” was a warren of tunnels and included a concrete bunker for protection against air strikes.
Colombian helicopters retrieved eight male and three female bodies, allegedly including Briceno’s, from the burned-out and heavily booby-trapped site, but Nijmeijer’s was reportedly not among them.
“Many of the tunnels collapsed under the impact of the raid. Most of the bodies inside will never be recovered,” explains Zumpolle.
Nijmeijer grew up in a middle class family in Denekamp, a small Dutch village near the German border. She studied Spanish at the University of Groningen, where she associated with left-wingers, squatted in abandoned houses and was once arrested for participating in a violent protest.
In 1998, she travelled to Colombia on an internship as an English teacher at a private school in Pereira. But it was her experiences volunteering in the poverty-stricken outskirts of the city that are said to have shaped her political views.
After completing her studies in the Netherlands she returned to Colombia where she worked for an aid organisation.
She joined the Farc’s urban wing in Bogotá in 2002 and, according to the Colombian intelligence service, was involved in several deadly attacks on police stations and civilian targets in the city. After this she is said to have joined a Farc unit in the southern Colombian jungle.
In 2003, the Columbian government released “proof of life” video footage of three US hostages being held by Farc rebels. In the footage Nijmeijer is seen acting as a translator for the hostages and two Farc commanders. After their release, the hostages described Nijmeijer as being an active member of the group.
|Nijmeijer joined the Farc in 2002 [Picture courtesy of Pieter van Huystee]|
Nijmeijer first made headlines in 2007 when excerpts of her diaries, found by the Colombian army during a raid on a Farc camp, were made public.
In them she described her involvement in Farc attacks in Bogotá, and the boredom of life in the jungle. She also complained of the machismo of her commanders and questioned what the group was fighting for.
“What will happen when we take over power? Will the commander’s wives drive Ferrari’s, have breast implants and eat caviar?” she wrote.
“One lives here more or less like a prisoner. This would be worth it if I knew I was fighting for something but I don’t really believe this anymore.”
Zumpolle says Nijmeijer was punished by the Farc leadership for her critical remarks. “She lost her privileges for a while and was made to do some hard labour, but soon enough she was forgiven and even made it to the inner circle of the Farc leadership.”
“Don’t forget that she was an educated woman among mostly illiterate farmers. They used her for her brainpower.”
The search for Tanja
Nijmeijer’s parents had long been trying to convince their daughter to return home and in 2005 her mother even visited her in the Colombian jungle – something the Farc rarely allows.
A video made during that visit shows Nijmeijer wearing combat fatigues, a field hat and lipstick. In it she sends her greetings to her family and tells her mother: “I am very happy that you are here. Now you can see how I live and what we do. You will see that it is not like the media are saying.”
In 2008, Ingrid Betancourt, who was held hostage by the Farc for more than six years, called on the Dutch government to intervene to “free” Nijmeijer. A Farc spokesman responded by telling the Dutch media that she was not being held captive and was free to return to the Netherlands on holiday if she wished to do so.
In the Dutch documentary Closing in on Tanja director Leo de Boer took Nijmeijer’s mother and sister to Colombia where they met up with Zumpolle and travelled deep into the jungle. Once there they broadcast a radio message with instructions for Nijmeijer on how to escape the Farc.
But De Boer came to the conclusion that she did not want to leave the Farc. “In all those years that she spent in the jungle she must have had at least one or two opportunities to slip away,” he says. “She crossed the point of no return.”
“I don’t think we will hear from Tanja again,” Zumpolle says. “Except maybe when they find her body.”