Latin America & Caribbean

Colombian Farc rebels 'will discharge fighters under 15'

Soldiers escort a 13-year-old captured teenage rebel of the Farc in the mountains of Santander state on 21 December, 2000.
Image caption The Colombian Army says it has captured Farc fighters who were as young as 13

A leader of Colombia's largest rebel group, the Farc, has said the Marxist guerrilla group will discharge its fighters who are younger than 15.

The leader, Ivan Marquez, told a radio programme that the recruitment of children was "not our policy".

He said there were currently 13 children under the age of 15 fighting in the Farc's ranks.

The announcement came less than a week after the Farc said it would stop recruiting children younger than 17.

Child soldiers

Ivan Marquez, who is one of the Farc negotiators at peace talks in the Cuban capital, Havana, told Colombian's Caracol Radio that "after internal consultation with the guerrilla structures across the country, the Farc leadership could determine there were only 13 fighters younger than 15" in its ranks.

He said they would be "discharged from the war within a short period of time".

Image caption Ivan Marquez told Caracol Radio there were "only 13 fighters under 15" in its ranks

He alleged that the children were the offspring of guerrilla fighters or had joined the Farc after they had been orphaned.

Human rights groups have long accused the rebel group of forcibly recruiting children.

Figures released by Colombia's Ministry of Defence suggest that since 2002 more than 2,600 children under the age of 18 have left the Farc, either fleeing the group or being captured by security forces.

While the majority were between 16 and 17 years of age, almost a third were younger, the figures suggest.

Farc negotiators have been engaged in peace talks with Colombian government negotiators since November 2012.

They have reached partial agreements on a number of issues, including on the drugs trade, land reform and political participation.

They are currently discussing the rights of victims of the five-decade-long conflict, which has killed more than 220,000 people.

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