Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday welcomed the decision by the country’s largest guerrilla group to declare a unilateral ceasefire, but said the armed forces would not let down their guard or quit defending the population.
On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced an indefinite ceasefire and asked the international community to verify the détente. They also said they would only break the ceasefire if they were attacked.
“We value this gesture of a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire but we cannot accept conditions like international verification,” Santos said in the town of Quibdó in northern Colombia. He also said he had a constitutional and legal obligation “to defend the security and liberty of all Colombians in every corner of the country.”
Government and FARC negotiators have been meeting in Havana for more than two years trying to hammer out a deal that would end the half-century conflict. The final agenda item of those talks is “ending the conflict” and Santos said that would be the moment to talk about international verification.
Wednesday’s olive branch comes as Santos has been hinting that there may be ways to de-escalate the violence even if fighting continues. But he said the ceasefire offer was like a thorny rose.
“What we have to do is take the thorns off the stem so what we’re left with is just the rose that they’ve sent us,” he said.
Also on Thursday, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said he hoped the FARC’s offer was genuine but said they needed to go further.
“Hopefully they will not only quit terrorism and acts of violence but also quit their extortion, their drug running, illegal mining, recruitment of minors, raping women and sexual crimes,” he said. “That would be true peace.”
In the past, the estimated 9,000-strong FARC has declared temporary ceasefires during the Christmas season but this is the first time in decades they’ve offered an indefinite respite.