Colombia’s largest guerrilla group will have an additional 20 days to hand over its weapons and an additional two months to reintegrate into society amid delays and foot-dragging in implementing a historic peace deal.
In a televised address late Monday, President Juan Manuel Santos said the additional time was needed to safeguard a peace pact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that aims to end more than a half century of violence.
Since the signing of the definitive deal in November, almost 7,000 guerrillas have gathered in 26 rural camps or “normalization” zones around the South American nation, and they were scheduled to turn over all their weapons by Wednesday. That same day, the special legal status of the 26 “normalization” zones was due to expire, even though many of the camps haven’t been completed. It has been clear for weeks that the deadline would be missed.
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Among the key problems is that shipping containers, where the weapons were to be stored, haven’t been installed at some of the camps. The government also said that hundreds of weapons caches identified by the guerrillas were in areas too remote to be reached by the deadline.
Santos downplayed the delays Monday, saying they were “nothing, if it means ending 53 years of conflict, violence and fratricide.”
The announcement came after FARC and government negotiators had held marathon meetings in recent days trying to resolve the impasse.
The two sides spent almost four years in Havana trying to hammer out a deal that would allow the hemisphere’s oldest and largest guerrilla group to lay down its arms and become a political party. Voters rejected an initial deal in October, but Santos passed a slightly modified version of the pact through congress a month later.
The FARC has been one of the main drivers of decades of conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and forced more than six million to flee their homes.
The deal has been praised by the international community but remains controversial in Colombia because it allows guerrillas who confess to their crimes and provide reparations to avoid jail time. It also guarantees the FARC, a communist organization, political participation.
Even so, the peace deal is already paying off. A bilateral ceasefire has been in place for six months and Colombia’s homicide rate is at its lowest point in decades.
“After these first six months since signing the accord, we can say without doubt that peace is irreversible,” Santos said. “Under no circumstances will we return to those terrible eras of violence, fear, murders and massacres. Colombia is leaving behind that history of blood and pain forever.”
Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss