When Nicolás was 17 he was forced to kill eight of his friends.

“It hurt to kill them, obviously,” Nicolás said, bowing his head as his voice started to tremble. “But an order is an order. I couldn’t think about that.”

Nicolás had been with Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, since he was 12. Some of his condemned brothers in arms were as young as 14. Their crimes included trying to desert, and falling asleep during lookout. One had ruined the camp’s food. Burning rice is an executable offence in the jungle. Refusing to carry out the executions would have got Nicolás killed himself.

Nicolás is able to tell the tale because, a year later in April 2015, he deserted himself.

The former child guerrilla said he hasn’t been able to relax since then. He talked of repeated threats and having to keep his previous life as a rebel secret. After communicating via intermediaries for months, he was cautious, always scanning the room to see who is listening. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, rather than the military fatigues he wore for years, he looked fresh-faced and vulnerable. He insisted that we use a fictitious name to tell his story.

The FARC is one of the main protagonists of Colombia’s half-century-long armed conflict that has killed over 220,000 people, mostly civilians, and displaced an estimated six million. Other rebel groups and, above all, state-aligned paramilitary groups and the state forces themselves, have all contributed to the bloodshed. Atrocities have been committed by all sides.

Read More- Vice News

Image courtesy of AP

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