Colombian government leaders are still in disagreement over the details of a final peace treaty with the left-wing rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC). The two sides missed their deadline last month to sign the deal that would end the longest-running war in Latin America.
Talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, which was declared a terrorist organization by the United States in 1997, began over three years ago in Havana.
“Some months ago we agreed that today, March 23, we would sign the final deal. This was agreed by the commander of the FARC – nevertheless, it wasn’t possible,” said the government’s chief peace negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, in a statement. “At the moment, there remain important disagreements with the FARC on key topics.”
The negotiators will continue to hold talks, de la Calle said, without mentioning a new deadline.
According to Reuters, negotiators so far agree on issues of land reform, political participation for ex-rebels, efforts to find missing persons and remove land mines, and an end to illegal drug trafficking. The disagreements holding back the peace deal are on how and where the rebels will demobilize and disarm, and how to guarantee the security of the rebels as they transition from an insurgent army to a political organization.
Supporters of Colombia’s far-right former President Alvaro Uribe marched in cities across the country on Saturday to reject the peace deal, claiming it will shield FARC members, who the supporters consider “terrorists,” from prosecution for crimes committed during the 50-year conflict.
On the other side, the FARC are wary of giving up their weapons, and for a reasonable concern: they fear they would make easy targets for paramilitary groups formed in the 1990s to combat the leftist rebels. According to the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation (PARES), which has been monitoring the conflict, rival groups could violently try to take over the rebels’ criminal rackets once they abandon drug trafficking and other criminal activity. This would put almost 90 of Colombia’s 1,100 municipalities at extreme risk of violence.
“If in the first 12 months of the post-conflict there is no emergency plan in these towns, the same will happen as has happened in other peace processes; other violent actors will arrive,” Leon Valencia of PARES told newspaper El Tiempo.
But concerns over the security risk could soon begin to abate; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced U.S. commitment to support the security of disarmed rebels, and President Barack Obama has asked Congress to support post-conflict peace efforts with $450 million in U.S. aid.
According to International Business Times, Kerry held separate meetings with both sides during Obama’s recent visit to Havana, and said he was encouraged that the end-of-conflict issues are now at the forefront of the negotiations.
The meeting was the first time the U.S. secretary of state has met with FARC rebels, who have been on the U.S. list of terrorist groups since 1997.
“We have received from him in person a backing for the peace process in Colombia, which filled us with optimism and which gives us more certainty that we are heading toward peace,” said FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, according to Reuters.
Londoño, who goes by the pseudonym Timochenko, called the meeting with Kerry “historic, unprecedented, unimaginable.”
U.S. officials have said Washington would consider removing the group from the terror list once they lay down their arms and no longer pose a risk to U.S. interests.