Top paramilitary, guerrilla leaders in Colombia ask forgiveness

People attend the testimonies of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel leader Rodrigo Londono and former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso at the country's truth commission in Bogota, Colombia, August 4, 2021. REUTERS/Nathalia Angarita

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Salvatore Mancuso and Rodrigo Londono, former enemies from Colombia's internal conflict, appeared together before the country's truth commission on Wednesday to ask victims for forgiveness and recognize mistakes they made during the war.

The hearing was the first where Mancuso, a former top commander of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), and Londono, the ex-leader of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), appeared before the truth commission at the same time.

The commission was established as part of a peace deal between the FARC and Colombia's government in 2016.

"I am fully aware there's no way to go back in time, to erase the scars we left etched in women's bodies, to bring back the dead, nor to undo the memory of displacements, of pain, or absences," Mancuso, 56, said via video call from a prison in the United States, where he is detained.

Right-wing paramilitary groups were created during the 1980s, financed by ranchers, farmers, landholders and the business community, to defend against attacks from left-wing guerrillas amid the powerlessness of the Colombian state.

Mancuso was extradited to the United States in 2008 for drug trafficking, as well as for failing to comply with a peace deal that allowed paramilitary groups to demobilize.

During the hearing, Londono, better known by his former nom de guerre Timochenko, said there were no words to change the pain felt by victims and again asked forgiveness for acts committed during the conflict.

"I know we will have to keep asking and hoping for forgiveness until the end of time," Londono said.

Both Mancuso and Londono retold details of their involvement in the conflict - which left more than 260,000 dead and millions displaced - over more than four hours.

However, beyond merely asking forgiveness, victims' representatives said the former leaders of illegal armed groups should reveal the truth, including what connections, if any, armed groups had to government officials and other important figures, to ensure justice is done.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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