University of Winchester hosts historic reconciliation encounter

1 Jun 2022

In the first international event of its kind taking place outside the South American country of Colombia, the University of Winchester is hosting Reconciliation is Possible, a dialogue between Bertha Fries, a victim of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's (FARC's) infamous car bomb attack on the El Nogal Social Club in Bogotá in 2003, and Rodrigo Londoño, last commander-in-chief of the FARC before the group disarmed in 2017.

This event at the University of Winchester follows a reconciliation encounter between Fries and Londoño in Bogotá in February this year to commemorate 19 years since the attack, during which Londoño acknowledged responsibility and told how meetings with the victims has helped transform him. Fries highlighted the commitment of the FARC to work with the victims and invited Colombian society to reconcile.

The attack on the club in February 2003 killed more than 30 people and injured hundreds of others. Bertha Fries was one of those seriously injured.

In 2016, in the middle of peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC, Fries decided to meet with FARC's chief negotiator in Havana. As well as facilitating numerous meetings between perpetrators and victims, in 2017 Fries met the commander in charge of the unit which planted the car bomb.

Professor Mark Owen, Director of the University's Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace, said: "Bertha Fries' approach to reconciliation can be characterised as 'transformative encounter'. She and Rodrigo Londoño have shown Colombia and the world that reconciliation is possible.

"We are honoured to host this historic event, the first of its kind outside Colombia. This powerful encounter is not just a personal one between victim and perpetrator, but an important dialogue on the way to moving Colombia towards peacebuilding and national reconciliation."

The event takes place in a key moment for Colombia, a week before the second round of presidential elections and fifteen days before the release of the final report of the country's Truth Commission.

Reconciliation is Possible: A Dialogue between Bertha Fries and Rodrigo Londoño takes place on Monday 13 June 2022 from 6-8pm at University of Winchester (doors open 5.30pm). It is hosted by the University of Winchester, the University's Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace, and Rodeemos el Diálogo (Embrace Dialogue, ReD)

Registration is essential online at Eventbrite:

This is an increased security event and, as well as registering in advance, all attendees must bring formal ID (passport/driving licence) to gain admission.

The University of Winchester's Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace (CRRP) was established in 2010 to help advance knowledge and understanding in the areas of religion and peacebuilding, and reconciliation.

Photo on landing page: Bertha fries and Rodrigo Londoño embrace at Reconciliation is Possible on 7 February 2022 in Bogota. Credit: Alvaro Tavera, Colprensa.

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