Colombia FARC rebels reborn as 'revolutionary' party

The name of the new FARC political party is the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, which in Spanish controversially retains the same acronym of the communist guerrilla group (AFP Photo/HO)

Bogota (AFP) - Colombia's FARC former guerrillas relaunched Friday as a political party, changing their logo of rifles for a red rose after disarming to end a half-century civil conflict.

The new party will have a "broad character, a new party for a new Colombia," the group's former military commander Pablo Catatumbo told a press conference.

It will be a movement "committed to guarantee social justice, peace, sovereignty and agrarian reform, for the defense of popular interests," he said.

FARC leader Rodrigo Londono on Thursday announced the name of the new party: the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force.

The name controversially retains the same acronym and the revolutionary spirit of the communist guerrilla group, which fought a bloody 52-year campaign against the state before signing a peace deal last year.

Demobilized and renamed, the party now faces a struggle for political acceptance in a country scarred by decades of attacks and kidnappings.

- You say FARC -

FARC delegates spent the week in a founding congress to choose their political representatives.

The choice of name was the other key item on the agenda.

Some FARC leaders wanted to keep the "revolutionary" element, while others favored softening the group's image by dropping it in favor of "New Colombia."

In the end, a majority voted to call it in Spanish Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun, so it will still be known as the FARC for short.

The logo for the new party is a socialist-style red rose with a star in its center above the letters FARC in green.

The former armed group's logo was two crossed rifles under a book.

- What's in a name -

The FARC acronym is a sensitive point in an already delicate peace process, since for many Colombians it is synonymous with the deaths and suffering of the war.

"It is possible that this name from the start will restrict them to representing only a small sector of the population," said sociologist Fabian Sanabria.

A spokesman for the party said an official English translation for its title would be announced.

- Peace and justice -

The FARC formed as a communist movement in 1964 from a peasant uprising for rural land rights.

Over the following decades, the conflict drew in various rebel forces, paramilitary groups and state forces.

It left some 260,000 people confirmed dead, 60,000 unaccounted for and seven million displaced in Latin America's longest conflict.

- Political challenge -

The new party will compete in next year's general elections.

Catatumbo told AFP that the new party plans to formally select its new political representatives by November. Among them are likely to be several former prominent guerrilla commanders, including Catatumbo himself.

Regardless of how many votes they may win, the peace deal signed with the government last year guarantees the FARC five seats in each of the two legislative chambers for two terms.

Colombians narrowly rejected the government's peace deal with the FARC in a referendum last year.

President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC then tweaked it and the government pushed it through Congress.

"We have entered legal political life because we want to be a government or be part of it," said Ivan Marquez, the rebel's chief negotiator in the talks with Santos's government.

The new FARC will seek to build "a large democratic coalition of broad convergence, built on shared policies and mutual commitments," said Marquez.

The government has also opened peace talks with Colombia's last active group, the 1,500-strong National Liberation Army (ELN), in the hope of sealing what Santos calls a "complete peace."

FARC leaders and officials warn that remnants of right-wing paramilitary groups are still carrying out attacks in the conflict zones.

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