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As FARC leader testifies, survivors of sexual abuse, recruitment see little hope for justice

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Yudy Tovar would like to believe that hope is the last thing ever lost. But Tovar, who was forcibly recruited and sexually abused as a teenager by Colombia’s now-disbanded FARC rebels, says the chances for justice in hers and thousands of similar cases are close to nil.

FILE PHOTO: Rodrigo Londono, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, former commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) speaks during a news conference at Special Jurisdiction for Peace tribunal in Bogota, Colombia September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

She is among thousands of survivors who will be watching closely when former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader Rodrigo Londono testifies in court on Tuesday about the presence of minors in the group.

Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko and now the head of the group’s legal political party, is one of 15 former guerrilla leaders set to voluntarily testify before the special justice tribunal created to try war crimes under a 2016 peace deal.

“This is so they can tick boxes, so they can say they did speak, but nothing will happen,” Tovar, now the spokeswoman for the White Rose group of women ex-rebels, told Reuters. “It’s our truth against theirs and obviously theirs has more weight. They’ll get away with it.”

Tovar, who has spoken in Congress and at official national events on behalf of victims, was forcibly recruited in 2005 as she left school in central Tolima province.

Within days the then-16-year-old was raped by a commander. In the 18 months before she escaped the rebels, 12 other fighters also raped her.

Londono has denied the FARC had a policy of forced recruitment, using his own entrance to the group at just 17 years old as an example.

“According to the laws of the FARC, entrance is voluntary,” he told local radio recently, before admitting there have been some cases of “deceptive” recruitment. Londono and the FARC did not respond to a request for comment.

“How will justice be done this way, if they won’t even accept the errors they committed?” said survivor Angela, forcibly recruited at 22 and who asked her real name not be used.

Angela served five years in prison on rebellion charges, but says she is not recognized as a victim by the government because she cannot prove her recruitment was forced.

The government victims unit and the attorney general’s office estimate there are 8,090 children and adolescents forcibly recruited by various armed groups. About 40% have received reparations totaling about $15 million (11.51 million pounds).

But advocates say that figure is several orders of magnitude too low.

Activist Herbin Hoyos, himself a former FARC hostage and the founder of popular one-time radio program “Voices of Kidnapping”, says rebels who deserted the group provided him with documents and photographs showing uniformed children as young as eight.

“We calculate approximately 39,700 minors,” Hoyos said. “I don’t see a possibility for justice ... here it’s the victims, the children who have to prove to the commanders they were recruited.”

Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Stephen Coates