Two dozens Colombian rebels laid down their arms Wednesday in the first group demobilization ceremony of leftist guerrillas since President Alvaro Uribe took office three years ago, the government said.
The fighters were part of an urban militia faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that operated around the city of Ibague, 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Bogota, the government's Peace Commission said in a statement.
The group's commander, Raul Agudelo, was captured by the army last year and from jail made contacts with his fighters to convince them to dessert from the FARC and rejoin civil society, said Carlos Cortes, a spokesman for the commission.
The 12,000-strong FARC began in the 1960s and battles the Colombian government and illegal right-wing paramilitary groups in a drug trafficking-fueled conflict that claims more than 3,000 lives a year.
Agudelo, who was given a temporary furlough from prison to attend the disarmament ceremony at a military base in Ibague, and the other fighters wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the image of the leftist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara at the ceremony, and handed over 24 pistols and other weapons, as well radio communications equipment, according the government.
Under Uribe, about half of the 20,000 fighters in the right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, have disarmed under a peace deal with the government. But the FARC has refused to negotiate peace with Uribe, so FARC rebels who have chosen to leave the war recently have done so alone or in small groups, without approval from their commanders.
The peace commission said the FARC fighters who demobilized Wednesday will be eligible for the same benefits as the paramilitary fighters who have disarmed. This includes a monthly stipend for up to two years and job training, AP reports.