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The Dutch woman who ran away with Colombia's FARC

Tanja Nijmeijer moved to Colombia in 2002 where she joined the FARC guerrillas in their fight against the Colombian state. She will be a part of their negotiating team during peace talks in Cuba this month.

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According to Mr. Botero, the film director, she has “an incurable inclination toward danger and fear.” She struggled initially with the intense physical challenges, such as the days-long marches between encampments loaded with equipment, an induction for new recruits. But she stuck to a strict regime to develop a tough physique. About one-third of the FARC forces are thought to be female.

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Nijmeijer's tenacity and bravery under attack impressed her superiors, says Botero, and she rose through the ranks, becoming assistant to a senior commander.

‘Her place in the world’

Emotional ties were harder to overcome, though. Life as a guerrilla meant abandoning her family for good, something “which caused her a lot of pain,” says Botero. “But like all FARC members, the guerrillas became her family – the structures and behavioral codes are very similar to family life, and they learn to forget.”

“At first I had true nostalgia, thinking about the fact I was never going to see my family again, but now it doesn’t affect me,” Nijmeijer can be seen telling Botero with a smile in his 2010 documentary. Dressed in combat gear with an AK-47 on her lap, she said, “I remember the good times.”

Her family traveled to Colombia several times to try to bring her home. Her mother broadcast messages on radio frequencies used by the FARC, and even flew across the jungle in an Army helicopter begging over a loudspeaker for her daughter to flee.

But after being granted a jungle meeting in 2005, Mrs. Nijmeijer left knowing her daughter would never leave the rebels, she told reporters. “Tanja came to feel this was her place in the world,” says Botero.

But she did have moments of doubt. Nijmeijer’s diaries were discovered at an abandoned FARC encampment in 2007, and quickly became front-page news. "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 in this anymore," she wrote.

Nijmeijer claimed her words were manipulated, telling Botero she was a committed and proud member of the FARC, and would stay that way until “victory or death.”

'Much hope' for peace

Now it seems there may be another way out.

Following speculation over whether she would be allowed to participate in the Colombian negotiations as a foreign national, Nijmeijer arrived in Cuba this week. 

In an interview with Agence France-Presse news agency, she said life as a guerrilla had been "very hard" but said she felt very happy and fulfilled to be "part of the people's army... [at] the center of the fight for social justice." 

“The Colombian people are a vanguard, an example of nonconformity, of fighting spirit, and that has always attracted me," Nijmeijer told AFP, adding that she had "much hope" for the upcoming peace process.

For many, simply by virtue of being a woman, Nijmeijer will be a very welcome addition to the talks – lack of female participation in previous talks has been cited as a contributing reason to their failure. This time around, the negotiating teams are again predominantly male.

For her family, Nijmeijer's presence goes beyond gender roles and representation: This is the first time they have seen their daughter in nearly three years, sparking renewed hope that one day, she may even return home.


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