FARC peace delegates, joined by armed guerrillas, visited a Colombia village seemingly without consent of the government that ordered to suspend rebel attempts to promote ongoing peace talks among their men.
The controversy arose on Friday after the government found out that the FARC’s chief negotiator “Ivan Marquez” and five other top guerrillas had visited the La Guajira province in the north of the country.
According to the FARC, the visit was meant to talk to local communities and explain advances made in ongoing peace talks.
However, the rebel commanders were not accompanied by police or military, but an impressive 500 heavily armed guerrilla fighters, the men and women they were supposed to meet with.
The visit surprised the local military commander, Colonel Ilver Gonzalez, who decided to keep his men away from the event to prevent possible escalations between the military and its decades-long enemy.
“I can’t say anything else. This should be managed by the High Command,” Gonzalez told newspaper El Heraldo after confirming he “had been aware” of the FARC visit.
Judicial authorities lifted the FARC leaders’ arrest warrants when talks began in 2012. More recently, the FARC sent its military commanders back to Colombia to touch base with their guerrilla units, who are expected to disarm and demobilize within weeks or months.
However, the government never agreed to the FARC visiting civilian communities as the group is still a designated terrorist group in Colombia and formally still at war with the state.
More importantly, while the guerrilla leaders are allowed to move freely in Colombia, the government never agreed to allow armed guerrilla units doing the same.
The administration of President Juan Manuel Santos reacted furiously at the FARC’s attempt to do promote their version of events of the ongoing peace talks. So far, only the government delegation has been touring the country to promote the pending peace deal.
The government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, reacted furiously and claimed the FARC had breached agreements regarding public outreach. According to De la Calle, the FARC agreed to not approach the civilian population while in Colombia, especially not in the company of hundreds of armed men.
“For this reason, the government asked the International Committee of the Red Cross and the host countries, Cuba and Norway, to take the necessary measures so that the group led by Ivan Marquez returns to Havana as soon as possible,” De la Calle said in a press statement.
Controversially, De la Calle also asked for the suspension of visits to FARC camp where the rebel leaders are preparing their troops for their yet-to-be-agreed disarmament and demobilization.
The FARC called the government’s indignation “unjustified,” and claimed that the government and opponents of the talks are “trying to isolate our delegation and ban interaction with different sectors of society, interested in knowing the development of the process.”
“Nonexistent commitments in the protocols — agreed by the parties for the transfer of the delegates of the FARC-EP in Colombia in order to socialize the progress of the process with the guerrilla combatants and the masses that have historically accompanied us — shouldn’t be used to ignore the right to free information that applies to all citizens,” the FARC’s Central Command said on their peace delegation’s website.
“We invite the National Government to work in order to overcome this impasse,” the FARC leadership said.
Despite having talked for more than three years, there still exists great distrust and animosity between the government and the FARC.
However, military confrontations between the warring parties have come to a virtual standstill after they agreed to de-escalate violence while negotiating a formal ceasefire.
This ceasefire and a post-conflict peace process will be monitored by the United Nations, which will also be in charge of the verification of alleged violations.