Colombia's Dutch rebel says she's 'married' to the cause

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After fighting alongside Colombia's leftist FARC guerrilla for a decade, Tanja Nijmeijer says she is "married" to the cause and the 34-year-old Dutch woman sees no other way of life for herself.

"I can't go back, nor do I want to go back," Nijmeijer told AFP in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of peace talks in Cuba between the rebel group and the Colombian government.

The long-haired brunette, the group's only known European member, has become the public face of the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia (FARC) since the rebels and the government launched the negotiations last month.

"I feel fulfilled as a FARC guerrillera and I don't know what else I could have been," she said in Havana's Revolution Square, under a giant image of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, who like her fought far from his homeland.

"I would probably have been a housewife, I'd have three kids, a husband, and I would've been divorced. But this would not have fulfilled me in the same way as being a guerrillera," she said.

"I have been married to the people's army for 10 years and it has been good for me."

Known by her nom de guerre Alexandra, the Dutch linguist has served as a translator, spokeswoman and Marxism teacher for Latin America's oldest insurgency, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

"I'm with the FARC because it is the way of fighting that the Colombian people have chosen, because they were left with no other choice but to fight with weapons," she said in Colombian-accented Spanish.

She admitted that adapting to the rebel life in the jungle and Colombian peasant culture was "very hard."

"It has been a sacrifice, but I feel very fulfilled and very content in its ranks," Nijmeijer said.

As the rebels and representatives from the administration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos held a third day of talks in Havana on Wednesday, Nijmeijer said the FARC wanted peace in Colombia.

The conflict has left 600,000 people dead and millions more displaced in almost half a century of fighting. The rebels say the unfair distribution of land -- a key point in the talks -- is at the heart of the conflict.

"We fight with or without rifles. And here in Havana we are fighting without rifles. We want to fight for a peace process, we want the Colombian people to be able to live in peace," she said.

Nijmeijer, in Cuba since November 5, was able to travel to the communist island after the Colombian authorities lifted a warrant for her arrest on rebellion charges.

The United States has charged her with terrorism and conspiracy to commit hostage taking in the kidnapping of three American contractors in 2003. The three men were freed in a military operation in 2008 along with former Colombian presidential candidate and French citizen Ingrid Betancourt.

Nijmeijer said she hopes to be able to visit her native Netherlands one day to explain "the reasons for the battle in Colombia."

© 2012 AFP

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