The capture of a wounded girl in camouflage paint and with explosives provided by FARC guerrillas has raised fears that Colombia’s half century old conflict may be taking an ominous new turn.
While the leftist guerrilla group has long been accused of recruiting minors to its ranks, a video aired this week by the Colombian police appeared to show for the first time they are now being used in combat operations rather than in support roles.
Taken in the province of Norte de Santander, the images show a wounded girl and the body of a boy who were captured after detonating explosives that killed seven police in a passing patrol.
The girl is shown with a leg wound, her half-naked body covered in green paint, a technique used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to hide in the jungle.
“She was in a state of severe anemia and appeared to be barely 12 years old,” Colonel Eliecer Camacho, the police chief in the region bordering Venezuela, told AFP.
The girl, however, who has a cousin in the ranks of the FARC, said in the hospital that she was recruited four years ago at the age of 14.
The boy’s torn body, also painted green, was found in the same place as the girl, Camacho said.
The girl told authorities they had been put through an “inhuman training over eight months,” the colonel said.
“They were required to walk for hours without shoes to harden the soles of their feet. They were denied food and water so they could endure more,” he said.
According to the police commander, the guerrillas recruit minors by trying to convince them to join voluntarily, but once in they are forced to stay.
“The recruitment of minors is not new, but their participation unfortunately is on the increase. Still, this is the first time they have been used for this kind of action,” said Ariel Avila, an expert at the Nuevo Arco Iris foundation.
“It is too soon to know whether there has been a change of strategy by the FARC to use minors in these commandos, or whether these are isolated cases,” Avila said.
Nearly 3,000 minors registered as part of a demobilization of armed groups between 2002 and 2011, but there could be as many as 10,000 more minors in rebel ranks, according to a 2009 UN report.