A commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have officially asked for forgiveness days after signing a peace treaty that has brought a new spirit of reconciliation to the nation.
“We ask for you to forgive us and that you give us the hope of a spiritual path, allowing us to move forward together with you,” FARC commander Ivan Marquez said Thursday in the town of Bojaya, the site of a deadly 2002 attack by the rebels.
FARC had already offered an apology for the Bojaya attack in 2014 in the Cuban capital, Havana, where peace talks had been underway for almost four years, but this time the commanders did so at the site of the attack itself.
“Once again, we offer an infinite apology, Bojaya,” Marquez said on Thursday.
On May 2, 2002, FARC guerrillas seized Bojaya in an attempt to take control of the Atrato River region from the paramilitary forces stationed there. The operation failed, and approximately 119 civilians were killed, 48 of them children, in the apparently indiscriminate firing of improvised mortars by the FARC rebels.
During a visit to a church that was destroyed in the Bojaya attack, Marquez asked the local community for reconciliation.
“Reconciled, we will move toward an era of fairness, for which humble people from every corner of Colombia have yearned for so much,” he said.
FARC’s highest commander Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, aka Timoleon Jimenez or Timochenko, asked the nation for forgiveness at the peace signing ceremony on Monday.
Timochenko and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed the peace deal in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, formally ending 52 years of a conflict.
However, the deal remains to be implemented after it is approved in a referendum, which is to be held on Sunday.
Analysts believe that the majority of Colombians will easily vote in favor of the peace deal, which will see the rebel group laying down arms and the government facilitating their incorporation into the political scene.
The Marxist group, which took up weapons in 1964 to fight social inequalities, exerts notable influence across some poverty-stricken areas of the country.
The decades-long conflict with the central government has left as many as 260,000 people dead, more than six million others displaced, and 45,000 other still missing.
The FARC peace deal has prompted Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), to also express readiness to engage in their own peace talks with the central government, but Bogota has yet to begin formal peace talks with the group.