Two of Colombia’s most notorious warlords will appear together before a truth commission on Thursday, in the latest move to shed light on the crimes committed during decades of bloody civil war.
Rodrigo Londoño, better known by his wartime alias Timochenko, once led the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a bloody fight against the Colombian state that left 260,000 dead.
Before laying down their arms in 2016, the FARC routinely kidnapped civilians for ransom, dealt in drugs and recruited minors. The rebel fighters manufactured mortar bombs from gas cylinders that houses destroyed and civilians killed indiscriminately.
The ex-guerrilla leader will appear by video link together with Salvatore Mancuso, who led a right-wing death squad that murdered thousands of trade unionists, peasants and FARC sympathizers.
The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, also trafficked cocaine and were responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the conflict, including horrific massacres in which civilians were killed with machetes and chainsaws.
While Londoño and Mancuso were once sworn enemies, the two men recently exchanged letters and phone calls, and in August last year requested that they participate in a joint hearing before the country’s newly created truth commission.
“This is an educational event that allows us, in a moment, to see a future country that we have dreamed of,” Francisco de Roux, president of the truth commission, told local media. “Where there are no internal enemies and no one has to feel threatened or like an informant, and where together we can build on the richness of our differences.”
Thursday’s hearing is expected to be the first of many, and the victims of the two men will appear at a later date.
But the encounter is likely to take on added significance because of the notoriety of the two men and the possibility that they may shed light on the crimes they have likely witnessed and ordered.
In January, a special court established after the peace agreement accused Londoño and seven former FARC leaders of human rights abuses, including kidnapping.
Mancuso is currently being detained by US federal agents at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) facility in Georgia, where he is fighting deportation to Colombia.
The former caudillo, who also has Italian citizenship, was convicted in Colombia of more than 1,500 murders and disappearances, before being extradited to the United States in 2008, where he served 12 years of a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking.
“This hearing is a key opportunity to tell the truth about the horrible crimes committed during the Colombian armed conflict, but Mancuso has little incentive to fully cooperate with the Colombian authorities while in the United States,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director for the Americas from Human Rights Watch.
“Until now, the Colombian authorities have taken small and often surprisingly careless actions to ensure their return to Colombia,” Vivanco continued. “They must exhaust all legal avenues to ensure his deportation to Colombia and ensure that he is adequately protected when he returns.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism