Colombia FARC rebels reborn as 'revolutionary' party

Bogota (AFP) - Colombia's FARC former guerrilla group re-launches itself Friday as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, sealing its transformation into a leftist political party following its disarmament after a half-century civil conflict.

The name controversially retains the same acronym and the revolutionary spirit of the communist guerrilla group, which fought a bloody 52-year campaign against the state before signing a peace deal last year.

The party will hold a formal launch ceremony on Friday on Bolivar Square, near the presidential palace in the heart of the political district in the capital.

Demobilized and renamed, it now faces a struggle for political acceptance in a country scarred by decades of attacks and kidnappings.

- You say FARC -

Delegates from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have spent the week in a founding congress to choose their political representatives.

The choice of name was the other key item on the agenda. The group's leader Rodrigo Londono announced it on Twitter on Thursday evening.

Some FARC leaders wanted to keep the "revolutionary" element while others favored softening the group's image by dropping it in favor of "New Colombia."

Londono, also known as Timochenko, said 628 delegates at the congress voted for Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, with 264 for "New Colombia."

In Spanish the new name, Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun, has the same acronym as the former rebel force's title, so it will still be known as the FARC.

- What's in a name -

That is a sensitive point in an already delicate peace process, since the acronym FARC for many Colombians is synonymous with the deaths and suffering of the war.

"They are keeping the same acronym because they want to maintain their support base in rural areas," the FARC-controlled conflict zones, said sociologist Fabian Sanabria.

"Doubtless people expected something different. It is possible that this name from the start will restrict them to representing only a small sector of the population."

A spokesman for the party said an official English translation for its title would be announced on Friday.

In its former guise it was known in English as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

- Peace and justice -

The FARC formed as a communist movement in 1964 from a peasant uprising for rural land rights.

Over the following decades the conflict drew in various rebel forces, paramilitary groups and state forces.

It left some 260,000 people confirmed dead, 60,000 unaccounted for and seven million displaced in Latin America's longest conflict.

Londono said at the start of the congress that the group will advocate "a democratic political regime that guarantees peace and social justice, respects human rights and guarantees economic development for all."

- Political challenge -

The new party will compete in next year's general elections.

Regardless of how many votes they may win, the peace deal signed with the government last year guarantees the FARC five seats in each of the two legislative chambers for two terms.

Colombians narrowly rejected the government's peace deal with the FARC in a referendum last year.

President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC tweaked it and the government pushed it through congress.

Timochenko has ruled out the new party fielding a presidential candidate in 2018. But he said it will support a candidate who guarantees peace.

The government has also opened peace talks with Colombia's last active group, the 1,500-strong National Liberation Army (ELN), in the hope of sealing what Santos calls a "complete peace."

FARC leaders and officials warn that remnants of right-wing paramilitary groups are still carrying out attacks in the conflict zones.

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