Jason Grechanik

The world’s oldest guerrilla group took a small but significant step towards peace this week, as it kicked off its disarmament process.

The United Nations said that on Wednesday it had begun registering weapons held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) at 26 “transition” camps where the rebels are currently staying as they prepare for civilian life.

After the weapons inventory is completed, the guerrillas will start to place their guns in UN containers, as stipulated in a peace deal signed last year by the FARC and the Colombian government.

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“This is a partial but substantial advance in the laying down of arms process,” the UN said in a statement issued on Tuesday.  “We trust that this process can be accelerated.”

The peace deal between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government has been widely applauded by the international community, and for many observers, it’s an example of how wars can be overcome in some of the world’s most violent regions.

But the implementation of the Colombian peace deal is a delicate process that has been plagued with delays.

FARC troops stand for instructions at a transition camp in southern Colombia
Jason Grechanik

The guerrillas were a month late moving into their “transition and normalization” camps, because the Colombian government had not provided adequate infrastructure, or signed off on their amnesties. The Colombian army moved slowly into areas of the country previously occupied by the FARC, giving drug trafficking groups an opportunity to start operating in those areas.

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The weapons handover has also been delayed over infrastructure problems. In some camps, the facilities where the rebel’s guns will be stored still haven’t been built. In others, the guerrillas have still not made a full list of their weapons to hand over to the U.N.

But FARC commanders say they still have no doubts about disarming.

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“We are used to difficulties, and these setbacks will not force us to give up,” Martin Corena, the commander of the FARC´s southern bloc, told me.

Corena is living in a transition camp in southern Colombia that is housing around 380 guerrillas.  Small bungalows that were promised to the guerrillas by the government still haven’t been built due to a lack of construction materials. So the guerrillas are staying in steamy tents made with black plastic sheets. Drinking water is scarce and the intense tropical rain has turned much of the camp into a muddy field swarming with flies.

Living conditions are tough at the Carmelita "transition camp" in southern Colombia

Corena says the tough living conditions have made some guerrillas skeptical of the peace deal.  Drug cartels are reportedly offering generous salaries to those who abandon the FARC and join their ranks.

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“Some people wonder whether the government can deliver on more important parts of the deal, if simple things [like living facilities] are not provided,” Corena told me. “There’d be more optimism among us if the government had taken better care of the conditions here.”

The current peace deal says that the FARC will enter civilian life after staying six months in the government run transition camps.  The rebels' guns will be melted down to make three peace monuments in Colombia, Cuba, and at the UN headquarters in New York.

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.