IRRC No. 323

The ICRC as a humanitarian mediator in the Colombian conflict: Possibilities and limits

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Cartagena de Chairá, 15 June 1997: the five Russian helicopters churned up clouds of dust as they deposited their precious cargo —70 soldiers of the government army who had been defeated and captured by the guerrillas nine-and-a-half months earlier. The spectacular landing in the jungle hideout gave them their first taste of freedom and marked the end of an episode in the war which had humiliated the military high command and kept the whole country in suspense. Hence the rejoicing was all the greater as the 70 soldiers, who had been presumed dead, were finally reunited with their mothers in an emotional scene, and the whole of Colombia briefly savoured the sweet illusion that peace was just around the corner. In front of international observers and countless journalists, the guerrilla commanders completed the handover of the soldiers to the ICRC with a moving ceremony. Then the soldiers boarded the helicopters again. Accompanied by an ICRC delegate and a member of the National Reconciliation Commission, they were flown to the army base at nearby Larandia, where the military leadership gave them an official reception with a brass band and laid on a buffet meal.

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