In Colombia, FARC rebels strike back
The leftist militants have launched 'plan rebirth' following a year of withering setbacks.
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But when they were taken to where they were supposed to work, it turned out to be a training camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), flush with 75 new recruits. "We were told we were now rebels," says Phoenix, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Phoenix," who escaped three months later, says he never wanted to be a member of Colombia's largest rebel army, but during his time as a guerrilla, he got a glimpse of the FARC's plan to regroup after a year of devastating setbacks.
After what he described as a month and a half of grueling training and indoctrination, he was handed an automatic rifle, grenades, and munitions. But he used his training to escape and turn himself in. And though many of his fellow recruits seemed as miserable as he was, he says he thinks many will stay on for lack of better options.
Recruitment and indoctrination are two pillars of the FARC's Plan Rebirth, launched to breathe new life into the 45-year-old rebel group after a series of serious blows to its command, morale, and finances.
The leftist rebels have suffered seven years of sustained military pressure under conservative President Álvaro Uribe that has seen top leaders killed, mid-level cadres captured, and the dramatic rescue of its top hostages. Hundreds of foot soldiers have deserted, and the FARC's command and control structure was disrupted.
But with a new leader and leaner ranks, the FARC seems to be retaking the offensive. In early May, the FARC attacked government forces from a variety of different areas of the country, killing at least two dozen soldiers and police officers. In a single day, in fact, the FARC launched attacks in at least four areas, killing six servicemen. Since the start of the year, government forces have clashed with rebels 488 times.
"It's like a poker game: They've lost a few hands and lost a lot of chips, but they still have enough to keep playing," says Luis Eduardo Celis, an analyst with the Corporacion Nuevo Arco Iris, a security think tank in Bogotá.
"In 2009, we must force ourselves to retake the initiative," Mr. Cano said in a communiqué published in January.
Throughout its history, the FARC have managed to adapt and reinvent themselves, proving resilient to military and political pressures.
The FARC was created by fighters who survived a 1964 Army attack on a small peasant self-defense force in the mountains of central Colombia. Defining themselves as Marxist-Leninists, FARC members vow to defend the rural poor against the ruling oligarchies.