Dutch guerrilla in Colombia leaves a puzzling trail behind

 BOGOTA, Colombia – The personnel file compiled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia on Guerrilla No. 608372 seems mundane at first.
   
   It says she was born on Feb. 13, 1978, taught languages in Pereira and Manizales and in 2002 joined the Antonio Narino urban warfare cell in Bogota, from which she received explosives training. A photograph shows an alluring young woman in a beret. Nom de guerre: Alexandra.
   
   But as a cache of documents captured by Colombian security forces from a guerrilla redoubt in 2009 confirms, this was no ordinary rebel. The file is a new piece of the puzzle surrounding the woman, whose real name is Tanja Nijmeijer, and who is capturing the imagination of her adopted land, Colombia, and her home country, the Netherlands.
   
   “She’s one of the most fascinating figures in our long war, present at many of its critical junctures over the last decade,” said Leon Valencia, a former guerrilla here and one of the authors of a newly published book about Nijmeijer.
   
   The book and a separate documentary, which was broadcast this month on Dutch TV, are adding to Nijmeijer’s complex tale, contending that the Dutch-born guerrilla is not only alive but has risen to the inner circle of the rebel group, known as FARC, as a personal assistant to Victor Suarez, a top commander better known as Mono Jojoy.
   
   Raised in the village of Denekamp in the north of the Netherlands, Nijmeijer took up radical politics as a student of Spanish in Groningen, a university city, where she joined its squatter scene. From there she went in search of adventure a decade ago to Colombia, then in the throes of the ugly war that continues at a reduced level of intensity to this day.
   
   The world might never have heard of Nijmeijer, now 32. But Colombian soldiers chanced upon her diaries, handwritten in Dutch, in a FARC camp raided in 2007, which caused a sensation here that year, offering a rare window into daily life within the FARC.
   
   In some entries, she described the boredom of the guerrillas, living in the hinterlands, far from cities. In others, she longed for her family in the Netherlands. In yet others she described her sexual escapades with fellow rebels, while lambasting the domination of female recruits by their male commanders.
   
   Throughout her writings, she touched repeatedly on a theme that seemed to vex the rebels themselves: Whether they stood for anything anymore, having evolved from their idealistic origins into a force that comfortably financed itself from the drug trade and survived by kidnappings, extortion and the forced recruitment of children as combatants.
    
   Nijmeijer, then said to have adopted the code name “Eillen,” lamented that rank-and-file guerrillas like herself had to be content with the occasional treat of a bag of potato chips and bottle of soda pop. She bristled, “Sometimes I want to stop following orders from a bunch of sexists who try to kill birds with assault rifles.”
   
   Not much was heard from Nijmeijer after the disclosure of her writings, save for a video from 2005 obtained by Colombian officials and broadcast on TV here. The images showed her in fatigues, flashing a smile and asking her parents to forgive her for disappearing into this country’s war.
   
   Nijmeijer’s odyssey from Dutch bourgeois comfort to remote Latin American encampments puzzles many, including her own family. “She’s a member of an organization that takes hostages and deals in drugs, there’s no denying that,” her aunt, Mariette Olde Dubbelink, said by telephone from Denekamp.
   
   In January, Colombian military officials told Nijmeijer’s family that the FARC had mentioned in their radio communications a woman called Holanda. That was proof, they said, that Nijmeijer might still be alive. But the Defense Ministry, questioned here on her status this week, declined to comment.
   
   Details about Nijmeijer that have emerged from the book and documentary describe an existence of intrigue and daring. She arrived in Colombia about a decade ago with a job to teach English in Pereira, in western Colombia, and then ventured with European and American peace activists into FARC-controlled areas.
   
   The FARC made use of her language skills, and as late as 2005 she seemed to be in good spirits, according to the video images broadcast here. Then her circumstances seemed to change, judging from what she revealed in her diaries. Monotony set in. She tired of living in encampments without privacy, and of being humiliated once in front of her comrades after criticizing a superior.
   
   “Would I have been happy as a civilian in the Netherlands?” she wrote. “Engaged, married with children?”
   
   But later in the same passage she expressed pride in her experiences in Colombia: “I’ve seen it all. Here I move like a fish in water, the jungle is my home. The FARC is my life, my family.”
   
   In a haunting part of the documentary “Closing in on Tanja” by the filmmaker Leo de Boer, Zumpolle, the rights activist, and Nijmeijer’s mother, Hannie, travel to Colombia and try to make contact with her on a radio channel received by the guerrillas. They give her instructions on an escape route. Silence follows.
   
   “We don’t know,” said her aunt, Dubbelink, “if she heard that appeal.”

   In some entries, she described the boredom of the guerrillas, living in the hinterlands, far from cities. In others, she longed for her family in the Netherlands. In yet others she described her sexual escapades with fellow rebels, while lambasting the domination of female recruits by their male commanders.