Tanja Nijmeijer, Colombia's mysterious Dutch guerrilla
Following a deadly raid, authorities are investigating the fate of Tanja Nijmeijer, who left a middle-class life in the Netherlands to fight in the jungles of South America.Nijmeijer, 32, was on a path to become a schoolteacher, a prospect very distant from her last known picture, where she appears in camouflage next to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.
Colombian intelligence officials had information that Nijmeijer, code-named "Alexandra" and the sole known European fighting with FARC, was working as a personal assistant to Jorge Briceno, the late commander known by his code name "Mono Jojoy."
The military initially believed it had found Nijmeijer's body amid the wreckage of a major FARC hideout that was bombed and stormed September 22-23, in a raid it said killed Briceno and at least three other senior FARC members, all women.
"We are investigating reports of 'Tanja's' possible death. According to intelligence services, she joined the guerrilla unit close to 'Mono Jojoy,'" a Defense Ministry official told AFP.
But authorities later said Nijmeijer's dental records did not match the female bodies found in the destroyed rebel command centre.
An email dated 5 April and addressed to Briceno notes that Nijmeijer had joined the FARC's international team, a sort of foreign affairs ministry for the rebels.
"Amid so many tragedies, Alexandra's arrival is good news. Putting her on the international board was great," the message read in part.
Born in 1978 to Hannie and Hans Nijmeijer, a Catholic middle-class couple, she did not seemed destined for the rigors of life in the Amazon jungle, said Leon Valencia, who co-wrote a biography of the Dutch guerrilla.
Nijmeijer, who had a background as a leftist activist, travelled several times to Colombia and even lived for a time in Pereira, an impoverished city in the heart of Colombia's coffee-growing region 360 kilometres (225 miles) west of Bogota.
Reportedly shocked at the income gap between rich and poor, she joined the FARC in November 2002. Her first assignment was in an urban guerrilla unit in Bogota, where she spied on Colombia's bourgeoisie while teaching English as a private language institute.
The rebels then trained Nijmeijer on how to use weapons and make bombs. According to authorities, she participated in an April 2003 bombing in Bogota that killed a child and wounded 16 people.
She made the headlines in 2007, when advancing Colombian soldiers came upon her diary in a hastily abandoned FARC jungle camp.
Her critiques in the diary apparently enraged FARC leaders, and there were calls for her execution. But Nijmeijer's language skills were vital to the guerrillas, and she appears to have worked as an interpreter and translator for the insurgents.
Despite the critiques, Nijmeijer's diary shows "great determination to head towards danger," Valencia said. "She always wanted to engage in combat."
AFP/ Michaela Cancela-Kieffer/ Expatica