President Juan Manuel Santos Tuesday said a ceasefire with the country’s largest guerrilla group will end Oct. 31, adding additional pressure to rescue a peace deal that was rejected by voters Sunday.
In a brief statement after meeting with religious groups that opposed the deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Santos said the government’s ceasefire, which took effect Aug. 29, would be lifted at the end off this month.
While the announcement is likely to light a fire under those who want to renegotiate the deal, it also gives the guerrillas cover to return to their jungle redoubts.
“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.
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The Ministry of Defense late Tuesday added that the government’s ceasefire could be extended “to preserve the [peace process] or for the safety of citizens, the FARC-EP, or our military.”
The guerrillas have had their own ceasefire in place since July, 2015 and, before Santos’ announcement, had pledged to maintain it.
The announcement comes as the guerrillas are particularly vulnerable. Over the last several weeks, they had been gathering in preparation to head to U.N. supervised “concentration” zones where they would turn in their weapons and receive training in advance of entering civilian life.
In particular, several hundred guerrillas had gathered in the Llanos de Yarí for their “10th Conference” where they unanimously approved the peace deal on Sept. 23. That deal was hammered out over the course of almost four years in Havana, Cuba with government negotiators.
On Sunday, however, the 297-page pact was narrowly rejected in a national plebiscite, leaving the process in limbo.
Santos will be meeting with former President Alvaro Uribe — who campaigned against the deal and wants the chance to press for better terms — on Wednesday.
Colombia’s half-century conflict has claimed more than 220,000 lives.