Rebel group FARC has agreed to extend its unilateral July 20 ceasefire from one to at least four months, during which Colombia’s government will take concrete steps to deescalate the armed conflict and both will decide on a possible truce.
These measures were announced on Sunday, days after the international guarantors of the ceasefire had called for concrete steps towards a bilateral ceasefire to curb increase public confidence in the talks and between the warring parties.
The decision on whether peace talks should continue and should be supported by a bilateral and definite truce will be taken in November, three years after the talks began and less than one month after local and regional elections are held in Colombia.
At the same time, the negotiators have changed the schedule of talks on substantial differences regarding justice, victim reparation and security for demobilizing FARC members who will lay down their weapons and be reintegrated into society if a peace deal is agreed.
In order to do this within the shortest possible period of time, the negotiating teams are split in two to simultaneously negotiate the two remaining points on the peace talks agenda: Victims and End of Conflict.
The main negotiation teams will continue negotiating what originally was point 3 of the agenda, but had been pushed back due to the complexity and delicacy of the subject, and has been holding back significant progress since May last year.
The most thorny subject in this agenda point is the application of justice; Both parties face charges of thousands of war crimes and human rights violations and refuse to take full responsibility for the seven million victims generated during the 51-year-old armed conflict.
The FARC has so far refused to accept prison sentences while the government has been reluctant to take responsibility for the state as victimizer in the conflict. While the FARC has already admitted to atrocities and have asked forgiveness for one massacre, its leaders have consistently refused to spend one day in prison.
Moreover, the FARC wants the government to revoke the Framework for Peace, an approved set of laws that would regulate the demobilization of the FARC, allow a certain level of judicial leniency for demobilized guerrillas while abiding to international humanitarian law on war crimes.
According to the FARC this legislation is unfair, claiming the Framework for Peace would not impose justice on state actors who, like the FARC, have committed scores of war crimes.
Additionally, the FARC has been ambiguous about whether it even wants to abide to international humanitarian law, conscious that this would imply the incarceration of important leaders with political ambitions.
The government has formally accepted the state’s role as victimizer at the beginning of the Victims round but has paradoxically tried to pass legislation on repeated occasions that according to human rights organizations promote impunity for crimes committed by state actors.
These crimes affect Santos directly as more than a thousand civilians were executed and presented as guerrillas killed in combat while he was defense minister and current Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo was vice-Minister of Defense.
These negotiations are accompanied by Norway and Cuba, the formal guarantors of the talks.
The delegations negotiating an end to hostilities are made up on senior FARC commanders and top commanders of the Armed Forces.
They will be accompanied by delegates of the United Nations’s Secretary General and the government of Uruguay who will also be in charge of monitoring an eventual bilateral truce.
Uruguay said Monday it will send former Defense Minister Jose Bayardi to accompany these negotiations. The United Nations has yet to announce its representative.
Joined by the international representatives, this team will negotiate the government’s steps to reciprocate the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire and take the necessary steps towards a bilateral ceasefire, something that failed during the FARC’s last unilateral ceasefire of five months.
The ceasefire called by the FARC in December fell apart between April and May when a FARC unit attacked a military unit in the southwest of Colombia that, confusingly, led to the arrest of the surviving commanders of the army unit.
The attack spurred Santos to lift a suspension of air strikes after which the Air Force killed 27 guerrillas in a bombing raid and the FARC on May 22 suspended its ceasefire and resumed its attacks on infrastructure and the armed forces at levels unseen since before the talks.
The wave of guerrilla violence that followed spurred a drop in public support for the talks while combat between the guerrillas and the military caused the mass displacement of thousands mainly in the west and southwest of Colombia.
How far the talks have come
The rebels and the government have since the beginning of the talks in November 2012 signed partial agreements on political participation, rural reform and the FARC’s abandoning of drug trafficking.
Additionally, a pilot project to jointly remove landmines planted by the guerrillas has begun in a village in the north of Colombia while the FARC has promised to begin releasing child soldiers under 15 that make up part of its military force.
In mid November, President Juan Manuel Santos will evaluate whether the FARC this time does comply with its unilateral ceasefire and whether the government’s reciprocation is enough to put an definite end to the violence, possibly ahead of a final peace deal.
Alocución del Presidente Juan Manuel Santos sobre el proceso de paz con las Farc (President’s Office)
Uruguay reitera su compromiso con el proceso de paz en Colombia (Uruguay’s Foreign Ministry)