Some 2,000 recently demobilized far-right paramilitary fighters joined Colombia's police force on Wednesday to work as unarmed security guards.
Government Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo told a ceremony in Bogota that it was beneficial for the country and for the ex-combatants to "actively collaborate in the restoration of order that they themselves had previously undermined."
The fighters will undergo a 30-day training course before helping officers keep the peace and promote health, environment and citizen awareness programs. Restrepo said the fighters admitted to the police force faced charges of rebellion and other lesser crimes but were not accused of atrocities such as massacres and kidnapping.
More than 10,000 fighters from the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces, or AUC, laid down their arms over the past two years in exchange for a sweeping government amnesty. The paramilitaries emerged in the 1980s to battle leftist rebels but have been accused of some of the worst atrocities in Colombia's 41-year-old civil war.
The former fighters joining the police are part of a broad, US$85-million-a-year (Ђ69.5- million-a-year) "reintegration program" that gives thousands of ex-fighters job training or returns them to class to earn high school diplomas. There are also scores of cases in which demobilized fighters have returned to a life of crime.
At a forum about the paramilitary peace process in Bogota on Wednesday, both the United Nations and the International Crisis Group expressed concern that fighters guilty of abuses were escaping justice.
Colombia is desperately seeking money from the international community to help pay for programs to reincorporate the thousands of demobilized combatants into civilian life, but worries about the peace process' transparency made it difficult to garner funds.
Ireland, however, on Tuesday offered US$470,000 (Ђ384,460) to support the demobilization process, according to the Colombian government, AP reports. National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro insisted that incorporating ex-fighters into the police forces and other rehabilitation programs contribute "to putting an end to the senseless violence and offer the demobilized fighters new opportunities."
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