Colombia alerts Farc rebels to end of ceasefire after failed peace referendum

President Juan Manuel Santos says government will end ceasefire on 31 October, as surprised Farc leaders instruct units to take up secure positions

Colombia and Farc scramble to rescue peace deal amid worries of return to war

Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, has said that a ceasefire with leftist Farc rebels will end on 31 October, putting guerrillas on alert and adding pressure to salvage a peace deal with the rebels scrapped by voters at the weekend.

On Wednesday, Santos will meet with former president Álvaro Uribe, who led a successful campaign for voters to reject a peace deal more than four years in the making with Farc guerrillas. The meeting – the first between the arch-rivals in more than five years – will seek to find a way forward in the search for peace in this country racked by 52 years of war.

The announcement of the ceasefire deadline took the Farc leadership, which has been meeting with government negotiators in Havana since Monday, by surprise. They interpreted the ceasefire deadline as an “ultimatum” and ordered troops, which had been preparing to demobilise, to take up secure positions.

“All of our units should begin to move to safe zones to avoid provocations,” Farc commander Pastor Alape wrote on Twitter, shortly after the announcement.

Todas nuestras unidades deben empezar a moverse a posiciones seguras para evitar provocaciones

— Pastor Alape (@AlapePastorFARC) October 5, 2016

Farc negotiator Carlos Antonio Lozada invited civilians to a vigil at Farc camps on 31 October to hold off possible bombardments. “We invite everyone who wants a Colombia without war,” he said in a tweet.

But analysts said that Santos’s announcement about the ceasefire was necessary because the bilateral ceasefire that went into effect 29 August – which had been labeled “definitive” – was contingent on approval of the peace deal. Announcing an extension to 31 October gives all sides time to take stock of the new political panorama.

“I think that it’s to renegotiate the bilateral ceasefire,” analyst Ariel Ávila told Caracol Radio.

It is also a message to the country that the current state of limbo cannot go on long. Prolonging the uncertainty, said Santos, is “risky and dangerous”.

Santos’s meeting with Uribe, and a separate meeting with former president Andrés Pastrana, who also campaigned for no in the plebiscite, aims to find a solution to the legal, political and security muddle Colombia finds itself in after voters narrowly rejected the peace deal. Uribe has said he wants to see “correctives” introduced to the agreement with the Farc, particularly on points about what he sees as “impunity” for war crimes and the possibility that former Farc leaders could hold political office.

Shaking themselves from the initial shock of the narrow defeat, supporters of the peace deal planned demonstrations and marches in several cities across Colombia on Wednesday to demand implementation of the accord.

But the foreign minister, María Ángela Holguín, a member of Santos’s negotiating team, admitted that the government had been unprepared for the rejection of the peace deal.

“There was no Plan B,” she told reporters. “We believed the country wanted peace.”


Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá

The GuardianTramp

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