The United States revoked its designation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as a “foreign terrorist organisation”, allowing US officials to work with members of the Colombian rebel group as they continue to shift into political life.
The move, which Congress had been notified of earlier in November, comes days after the Marxist rebels and Colombia’s government celebrated the five-year anniversary of a peace deal that ended five decades of violence.
In 2018, the group took part in a United Nations-supervised decommissioning of the last of its accessible weapons.
In a statement on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said removing the “terrorist” designation would make it easier for the US to support the implementation of the accord.
“The decision to revoke the designation does not change the posture with regards to any charges or potential charges in the United States against former leaders of the FARC, including for narcotrafficking,” he said.
Today’s revocation of FARC’s terrorist designations is a credit to the 2016 Peace Accord with the Colombian government. Our new designations of two new terrorist groups will continue to isolate those who engage in terrorism at the expense of the Colombian people.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) November 30, 2021
The FARC group, which fought in an era of devastating political violence in Colombia – carrying out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and attacks in the name of redistributing wealth to Colombia’s poor – was designated a political party in the wake of the 2016 peace agreement.
The US officially designated the FARC as a “foreign terrorist” organisation in 1997, the halfway point of the rebels’ six-decade conflict with the government.
The group is now guaranteed a share of seats in Colombia’s legislature.
Observers increasingly warned that failure to lift the US designation would hobble Washington’s ability to support programmes involving former FARC fighters, including removing land mines and replacing illegal crops.
Lifting the label also allows US agencies to work on peace implementation in parts of Colombia where demobilised FARC soldiers are located.
Rodrigo Londono, a former FARC leader known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, welcomed the US announcement on Tuesday. “It is a recognition of our commitment to peace and our rigorous compliance with what was agreed in the Peace Agreement,” he wrote on Twitter.
Some 13,000 guerrillas have surrendered their arms since the signing of the peace pact in 2016.
Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from the Colombian capital, Bogota, said the delisting is something that many people, especially those living in conflict areas, were waiting for. “It does allow for a stronger implementation of a number of reforms that come with the peace deal,” he said.
Violence persists in many regions of Colombia where FARC dissidents, more than 5,000 of whom rejected the deal, continue to fight paramilitary and rebel groups and drug traffickers in the world’s largest cocaine-producing country.
The two dissident groups that have formed out of the FARC, La Segunda Marquetalia and FARC-EP, or People’s Army, have been designated as “foreign terrorist” organisations, Blinken said in Tuesday’s statement. “The designation of FARC-EP and Segunda Marquetalia is directed at those who refused to demobilize and those who are engaged in terrorist activity.”
According to the Indepaz research institute, approximately 90 armed groups with some 10,000 members remain active in Colombia.
A US official previously told reporters that keeping those groups on the list “allows us to target the full tools of the US government and law enforcement to go after those individuals who did not sign the agreement and remain active in terrorist activities”.