Colombia’s Farc guerilla group declare unilateral ceasefire

Farc has declared ceasefires at Christmas time for the past two years

People demonstrate against the Farc rebels in Bogota holding a banner that reads, “No more Farc”. Photograph: John Vizcaino/Reuters

People demonstrate against the Farc rebels in Bogota holding a banner that reads, “No more Farc”. Photograph: John Vizcaino/Reuters

 

Colombia’s largest guerrilla group declared on Wednesday it would begin an indefinite, unilateral ceasefire, in a challenge to the government to halt hostilities while the two sides continued negotiations toward an end to 50 years of war.

But the group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), said that it would call off the ceasefire if government forces attacked - a condition that appeared to give the gesture little chance of success, since the government has repeatedly rejected previous calls by the rebels to suspend hostilities while the two sides try to forge a permanent agreement.

The ceasefire was to go into effect Saturday, the Farc said in a statement posted online. It added that it hoped to subsequently agree to a truce with the government.

The Farc has declared unilateral cease-fires at Christmas time for the past two years, as well as during presidential elections this year. But it has not previously said that it would refrain from hostilities for an unlimited period.

There was no immediate response from Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos or others in the government. Mr Santos was re-elected this year on promises to conclude the peace negotiations that he started with a surprise announcement more than two years ago.

Camilo Gonzalez, the director of the Institute for Development and Peace Studies in Bogota, said the Farc’s move was positive, but added that it would be difficult for the government to agree to a truce because that would open it up to fierce criticism from right-wing opponents of the peace process.

“The government has been very insistent lately with its language of a military offensive,” Mr Gonzalez said. Senator Fernando Nicolas Araujo, a member of the right-wing party of former President Álvaro Uribe and a fierce adversary of Santos’ peace efforts, said the Farc was trying to trick the government into accepting a bilateral cease-fire.

“Like always, the Farc wants to fool the country,” Mr Araujo said. “We cannot accept a bilateral cease-fire. It is the capitulation of the rule of law in the face of terrorism.”

The Farc announcement came shortly after the peace talks had overcome their greatest obstacle so far, when the guerrillas last month captured an army general, Ruben Dario Alzate. That led Mr Santos to suspend the peace talks. Two weeks later, the Farc released Mr Alzate and two others seized with him, clearing the way for the talks to resume. It also came two days after the government announced that it had killed nine Farc members in a military operation in the southeastern part of the country.

“In a negotiation, there are no gifts from either side,” said Carlos Eduardo Jaramillo, an adviser to government negotiators in a round of peace talks involving the Farc and another guerrilla group in the 1990s. “Every offer is poisoned. No one makes an offer out of pure altruism.”

He said that the “poison” in this case was the caveat that the ceasefire would end if the Farc came under assault. “The chance of success depends on how the government interprets it and the actions it takes,” he said. “Maybe the government will say, ‘We will keep fighting, but we will decelerate the conflict.’”

New York Times