Two of Colombia’s most notorious warlords will appear together before a truth commission on Thursday, in the latest move to shed light on 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 struggle against the Colombian state that left 260,000 dead.
Before laying down their guns in 2016, Farc routinely kidnapped civilians for ransom, traded drugs and recruited minors. Rebel fighters fashioned mortar bombs from gas cylinders which destroyed homes and indiscriminately killed civilians.
The former guerrilla leader will appear by video link alongside Salvatore Mancuso, who led a rightwing death squad that murdered thousands of trade unionists, peasants and Farc sympathizers.
The United Self-Defence 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 may once have been sworn enemies, the two men have recently exchanged letters and phone calls, and in August last year requested that they participate in a joint hearing before the country’s newly minted truth commission.
“This is a didactic event that allows us, in one moment, to see a future country we have dreamed of,” Francisco de Roux, the 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, with victims of the two men set to appear at a later date.
But the encounter is likely to take on extra significance owing to the notoriety of the two men and possibility that they can shed light on crimes they are likely to have witnessed and ordered.
In January, a special tribunal set up following the peace deal charged Londoño and seven fellow former Farc leaders with human rights abuses including kidnapping.
Mancuso is currently being held by US federal agents in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) facility in Georgia, where he is fighting deportation to Colombia.
The former warlord, who also holds Italian citizenship, was convicted in Colombia over more than 1,500 murders and disappearances, before being extradited to the US in 2008, where he served 12 years of a 15-year sentence on drug trafficking charges.
“This hearing is a key opportunity for truth-telling about the horrific crimes committed throughout the Colombian armed conflict, but Mancuso has little incentive to cooperate fully with Colombian authorities as long as he is in the United States,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch.
“So far, Colombian authorities have taken little and often strikingly sloppy actions to secure his return to Colombia,” Vivanco went on to say. “They should exhaust all legal avenues to secure his deportation to Colombia, and ensure he is adequately protected when he returns.”