Tag: Cease-Fire

Summary of the FARC-Government Ceasefire and Disarmament Accord

June 23, 2016

(This summary was updated and corrected on June 24 to reflect new information.)

The accord agreed today, for “A Bilateral and Definitive Ceasefire, Cessation of Hostilities, and Laying Aside of Weapons,” closes the fifth of five substantive items on the FARC-government negotiating agenda. It sets out a roadmap for disarming and demobilizing the FARC after a final peace accord is signed. It foresees a swift process: a full turnover of guerrilla weapons within six months.

This is a tremendous milestone. What remains between now and a final, conflict-ending peace accord are details. Some of these will be thorny, and may require weeks or even a few months to unravel. But the hardest parts of the FARC peace process are now in the past.

Here is a quick English summary of the remarkable agreement announced today.

Timetable

  • The bilateral ceasefire and “leaving aside” of weapons will begin at the date and hour of the signing of a final accord. This date may be weeks or months from now, as the draft accords reached since 2013 have at least a few dozen points on which the parties could not reach final agreement.
  • The day after a final peace accord, Colombia’s security forces will redeploy in a way that facilitates the FARC membership’s movement to the 23 “Temporary Hamlet Zones for Normalization” described below. The government and FARC will provide these zones’ geographic coordinates to the UN monitoring mission (which is also described below).
  • Five days after a final peace accord, the FARC’s units will begin to move to these zones, following routes agreed upon between the government and FARC. The monitoring and verification mission will oversee this process, including the movement of the guerrillas’ individual weapons.
  • Once the FARC turns in a list of the combatants present in each Temporary Hamlet Zone, the government will suspend all outstanding arrest warrants for them. Those who can be amnestied—who do not face allegations of serious human rights crimes—may begin their “process of reincorporation into civilian life.”
  • Between seven and thirty days after a final peace accord, the FARC’s weapons stockpiles, as well as guerrilla militias’ arms and all explosives, must be moved to the Temporary Hamlet Zones under the supervision of the verification and monitoring mission.
  • Within 180 days, as discussed below, the UN mission should have control over all of the FARC’s weapons.

Concentration of Guerrilla Fighters

  • The parties will establish 23 “Temporary Hamlet Zones for Normalization” (Zonas Veredales Transitorias de Normalización), with 8 encampments inside each and an additional 8 encampments elsewhere in the country. These zones’ location has not been made public, if it is even decided yet. These zones and encampments will be located in municipalities listed in a June 24 Defense Ministry communiqué and mapped out below.

  • Each Temporary Hamlet Zone will be as large as a hamlet or vereda, an administrative division that is usually quite small (most of Colombia’s 1,100 counties have a few dozen veredas). Each must be accessible by road or river. Each may be expanded or reduced by mutual accord if necessary.
  • Each zone will be surrounded by a 1-kilometer buffer zone, in which neither the security forces nor the FARC may be present (except for those participating in the verification and monitoring mission). Military aircraft may not fly below 5,000 feet above the zones.
  • The FARC will be responsible for its combatants within each zone. Any FARC members who leave the zone must do so unarmed and out of uniform.
  • The FARC cannot use the zones “for demonstrations of political character.”
  • Any unarmed civilian government authorities within these zones will be able to continue performing their duties without interference. They may enter any part of the zones, except for the encampments within them, where the FARC will be lodged. No civilians may enter the encampments at any moment.
  • If the police or other armed government authorities need to enter a Temporary Hamlet Zone for some reason, they must arrange it beforehand with the verification and monitoring mechanism.
  • The FARC may provide education and other orientation to its fighters within these zones, while the government may perform other services (like health care or issuing ID cards) necessary for their reintegration into civilian life.
  • During the period in which the FARC are concentrated in these zones, 60 guerrillas will have permission to travel anywhere in the country to carry out tasks related to the peace accord. For each Temporary Hamlet Zone, 10 guerrillas will be able to travel anywhere in that department (province) to carry out such tasks. While traveling, these guerrilla representatives will have protection. Before they do so, they much store their weapons in containers overseen by the verification mission.

Monitoring and Verification

  • Members of the government, the FARC, and a UN mission approved by a January Security Council resolution will make up a tripartite monitoring and verification mechanism. This mechanism will be divided into eight regions and a larger number of local units—including one for each Temporary Hamlet Zone. The mechanism will have unlimited access to each of these zones.
  • The international component will be a UN mission made up of unarmed political observers. It will mainly be made up of members of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) countries. This international component will preside over all of the tripartite mechanism’s units, and will settle disagreements, issue recommendations, and publish reports.
  • This mechanism will verify that the parties are following the rules of the ceasefire. It will investigate incidents or violations, and will present recommendations to the government and FARC for how to prevent or correct them.

“Leaving Aside” (Dejación) of Weapons

  • The UN mission will receive the totality of the FARC’s armaments, which will be used to build three monuments.
  • “Leaving aside” weapons will consist of eight steps:
    • registration of the quantity and types of weapons brought into the Temporary Hamlet Zones;
    • identification of each individual’s weapons (the accord makes a distinction between the weapon each fighter carries, and additional weapons in guerrilla stockpiles);
    • monitoring and verification of weapons being carried by guerrillas in the encampments within the zones;
    • turnover of weapons to the UN mission;
    • storage or warehousing (almacenamiento) of the collected weapons, in containers within the zones that only the UN mission may access;
    • removal of the weapons from the zones; and
    • creation of three monuments built from the destroyed weapons: one at UN headquarters, one in Cuba, and one in Colombia.
  • 60 days after the signing of a final accord, the FARC must move its stockpiles (non-individual weapons), grenades and munitions to containers supervised by the UN mission.
  • By 90 days after the signing of a final accord, the FARC must turn over to the UN mission 30 percent of its individually carried weapons. Another 30 percent of individuals’ weapons must be turned over by 120 days after the signing of a final accord. The remaining 40 percent must be turned over by 150 days after the signing of a final accord. By 180 days after the signing of a final accord, the UN mission should have all guerrilla weapons.
  • The FARC must contribute to efforts to remove mines, improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance and other explosives.

Security Guarantees for Demobilized Guerrillas

  • The government will encourage political parties and other sectors throughout the country to sign a “National Political Pact” committing all to abandoning the combination of arms and politics and the promotion of violent organizations like paramilitary groups.
  • A National Security Guarantees Commission, presided by the President, will develop and oversee policies to dismantle such violent organizations.
  • A Special Investigative Unit in the Prosecutor-General’s Office will concentrate on the dismantling of organized crime and paramilitary groups and support networks.
  • A “mixed protection corps” to guarantee the security of demobilized FARC members will be created within the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit.
  • An Integral Security and Protection Program will be established to protect organizations, groups, and communities in historically conflictive territories.

Ratification of Peace Accords

  • A brief paragraph in the June 23 communique commits both sides support what Colombia’s Constitutional Court decides should be the proper procedure for a public vote to approve the contents of the peace accords. (The Court is currently deciding on a plebiscite in which voters would vote “yes” or “no.”)

Tags: Accords, Cease-Fire, Disarmament

Why Colombia’s Negotiators Couldn’t Manage a Cease-Fire by March 23

March 23, 2016

(2,686 words / 11.5 minute read time)

It sounded over-ambitious when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced last September 23, during a historic handshake meeting in Havana with the FARC guerrilla leadership, that both sides’ negotiators would sign a final peace accord in just six months—that is, by today, March 23, 2016.

The slow-moving FARC-government negotiations still had a lot of ground to cover. It then took nearly three more months just to finish the talks’ “Victims” agenda item, of which the September 23 agreement, on transitional justice, was only a part. During that period, several FARC spokespeople warned that the March 23 deadline would not be met.

A more realistic hope was that the negotiators could agree by March 23 on something more modest than a final accord, but still tremendously important: a bilateral ceasefire. This would be a genuine, full cessation of all hostilities—all forms of violence, from extortion to recruitment of new fighters—with UN verification, as laid out in a January Security Council resolution).

The “ceasefire by March 23” scenario had seemed likely. When WOLA staff visited Bogotá during the first week of March, a strong majority of experts and officials we interviewed saw the sides as “almost there” on the details. “Something will be signed on March 23,” Colombia’s foreign minister said earlier this month. President Santos warned on February 19 that if a ceasefire and precise timeline for laying down arms weren’t ready by March 23, he would see it as evidence that “the FARC aren’t prepared for peace.”

A ceasefire by this week would have been important enough for President Obama to alter his Cuba visit schedule to appear in the photo frame, along with Santos, Raúl Castro, and FARC leader “Timochenko,” at a triumphant signing ceremony. Such a photo could have had huge symbolic value for U.S.-Latin American relations, a break with a history punctuated by gunboat diplomacy, cold war proxy conflicts, and the war on drugs.

But there was no ceasefire accord, despite last-ditch efforts by President Santos’s older brother to break an impasse. So there was no photo opportunity by the time President Obama boarded Air Force One bound for Argentina on March 22. Instead, on March 21 the negotiators got the “participation award” of separate meetings (and photos) with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Secretary of State Kerry meets with FARC negotiators.

So, what happened?

In order to protect guerrillas during a ceasefire, and to guarantee both sides’ compliance, it is necessary to gather FARC fighters in specific zones around the country. Colombia’s security forces would be absent from these zones (though they would guard the perimeter), and the government would suspend outstanding arrest warrants for all guerrillas assembled there.

Agreement on these “concentration zones” remains elusive. They are the main point standing in the way of a ceasefire. In fact, the parties may be more distant on the concentration zones issue today than they were two months ago.

On January 23, the negotiators’ “End of Conflict Subcommittee”—an expert group made up of five senior active-duty military officers and five of the FARC’s most battle-hardened commanders—submitted a confidential consensus document recommending how these zones would operate. Things appeared to be on the right track.

Tags: Cease-Fire, Updates

The UN Verification Mission’s Essential Role in Colombia’s Long-Awaited Ceasefire

March 22, 2016

By Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security

As soon as this week, though perhaps later, Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrillas may agree to a bilateral cessation of hostilities. As discussed in a previous article, this would involve guerrilla fighters beginning to concentrate themselves into special demilitarized zones around the country.

Within 30 days of signing this agreement, according to a January 25 Security Council resolution, details should be worked out for a UN mission to Colombia. We don’t yet know what that mission’s name will be, but we know the following.

It will be charged with monitoring and verifying the FARC’s “laying down of arms.” The guerrillas will not be handing over weapons to Colombia’s government. This would be seen as symbol of surrender. Any such proposal would run contrary to the spirit of the negotiations, and would have been rejected by the FARC. In addition, recent Colombian historyleads FARC members to worry about their own protection after they demobilize. As a result, disarmament will happen slowly (as it did in Northern Ireland), and will be the responsibility of the UN mission.

The UN will be part of a “tripartite mechanism” to verify the cessation of hostilities, along with Colombia’s government and the FARC. The UN mission will be present near the as-yet-undetermined guerrilla concentration zones, which most likely will be guarded by Colombian military personnel. The mission will have full access to these zones. There, it will play a sort of “referee” role. Along with government and guerrilla representatives, the mission’s members will deploy quickly to investigate any claims that one side has violated the terms of the ceasefire, or that such a violation appears imminent. The tripartite body will have to decide whether a violation happened, report it, and recommend steps that must be taken to avoid a repeat.

Officials interviewed by WOLA colloquially described the tripartite model as “three people in a jeep”: investigator teams with representatives from the FARC, the Colombian military, and the UN mission. (The teams are actually more likely to be made up of six, not three, people.)

It is likely to be made up of 350 unarmed international military personnel, plus support staff. These will not be blue-helmeted peacekeeping troops: this is a political mission, not a peacekeeping mission. (This also means that the mission is likely to be far less generously funded than a peacekeeping mission.) They will be active-duty or retired personnel most likely wearing civilian clothes.

Its personnel will come from around the world, though the Security Council resolution “looks forward to the contributions of Member States of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a body of all Western Hemisphere countries except the United States and Canada. However, according to UN custom, countries that share a border with Colombia (Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, and—due to a maritime border—Nicaragua) cannot participate. There may be some flexibility on this custom, though, as these neighboring countries plus Colombia comprise more than half of the combined population of CELAC member states.

Tags: Cease-Fire, UN

“Concentration Zones”: the Perplexing key to a Bilateral Ceasefire in Colombia

March 15, 2016
There's a good possibility that by March 23, Colombia's government and the FARC guerrilla group will sign an accord putting in place a bilateral ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities. This would mean not only that neither side will attack the other, but that the FARC will halt actions that affect the civilian population, like extortion, laying landmines, recruiting minors, and drug trafficking. Members of an unarmed United Nations mission will verify allegations that either side is violating the terms of the ceasefire, or that such a violation appears imminent.

A major part of the ceasefire arrangement will be a concentration of guerrilla forces in specific zones around the country. Colombia's armed forces will not be allowed to enter these zones, and for some time the guerrillas assembled there will be allowed to keep their weapons, as they begin what may be a long process of “leaving aside arms.”


AI English Thumb

These areas will eventually become the sites where guerrillas undergo demobilization and disarmament, after the signing of a final accord, which is likely to occur in mid-2016. 
 
On March 9, Colombia’s Senate approved, in a final debate round, its version of a reform to Colombia’s Public Order Law, which would legalize what would be termed “Concentration Zones.” Surprisingly, the party of former President (now Senator) Álvaro Uribe threw its support behind the bill. The legislation suggests that these zones must:
  • Be free of illicit crops and illegal mining.
  • Be “prudent and reduced” in number in order to ease monitoring and verification.
  • Not touch Colombia’s borders.
  • Host inventories of the FARC’s weapons supply​.
  • Require full identification, including fingerprints, of all who enter.
  • Eventually host the destruction of surrendered FARC weapons.
  • Allow international monitoring and verification of the ceasefire.
The legislation offers some clarity about what these Concentration Zones might look like, though whether the guerrillas will agree to all of these conditions is uncertain. Even if they do agree, much else remains to be determined. For instance, the legislation does not clarify how these zones will be harmonized with the collective territorial rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities living in areas where they would be established.

How many zones will be created? Where might they be?

The FARC membership's transfer to these zones poses a great risk of triggering a post-conflict spike in violence. This initial transfer phase will be very difficult, and much depends on the number and locations of the zones that negotiators are currently discussing.

Tags: Cease-Fire

Accord reached on UN/CELAC verification of cease-fire and disarmament

January 19, 2016

Here is a quick translation of the accord announced today in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC.

Joint Communiqué #65

The government of the Republic of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, People’s Army, FARC-EP:

Reiterate their commitment to the negotiations to achieve a Final Accord for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Long-Lasting Peace (Final Accord), including an accord on a bilateral, definitive cessation of fire and hostilities, and the leaving aside of weapons.

They also reiterate their commitment to the implementation of all accords contained within the Final Accord and the launching of effective mechanisms of monitoring and verification, with international accompaniment, which can guarantee full compliance with the agreed commitments.

We have decided to create a tripartite mechanism of monitoring and verification of the accord for a bilateral and definitive cessation of fire and hostilities and leaving aside of weapons, which can generate confidence and guarantees for its compliance, made up of the government of Colombia, of the FARC-EP, and by an international component which will preside and coordinate the mechanism in all of its instances, settle controversies, make recommendations and present reports, and which will begin its work once that accord has been reached. With regard to the leaving aside of weapons, the same international component will verify it in the terms and with the due guarantees that will be established by the accord’s protocols.

We have agreed that that international component will be a political mission of the UN integrated by observers from CELAC member countries.

With that purpose, we have decided to ask the UN Security Council to create that political mission starting now, with unarmed observers for a period of 12 months, which can be extended at the petition of the national government and the FARC-EP, and also to ask the member countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, CELAC, their willingness to contribute to said mission that will be made up by the United Nations.

They also ask that the Mission begin its necessary preparations, in close coordination with the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP, for its deployment. The international observers will enjoy full security guarantees.

We thank the United Nations and CELAC for their willingness to support Colombia in the search for peace.

Tags: Accords, Cease-Fire, Disarmament, Verification

What Are They Thinking?

July 16, 2015

The last seven months have seen the pendulum of Colombia’s peace process swing back and forth rather wildly. The year began with optimism: the FARC was observing a unilateral ceasefire that began on December 20. Armed violence dropped to levels not seen since the early 1980s.

An April 15 FARC attack on a military column in Cauca, in southwestern Colombia, dashed this optimism. The three months that followed were marked by a dramatic re-escalation of the conflict, with June the most violent month since talks began in October 2012.

Then—almost as abruptly—the FARC declared a new unilateral ceasefire on July 8, for one month starting July 20 (Colombia’s independence day). Government and FARC negotiators went further four days later, signing an accord making the FARC ceasefire indefinite and committing the government to de-escalating its own military actions if the FARC maintains its ceasefire. The July 12 accord raises the priority of negotiating a bilateral ceasefire (something the government had resisted) and accelerating discussions of what remains to be negotiated, especially transitional justice for the worst human rights violators.

This is a positive development, though perhaps not a breakthrough. We can expect real progress in the next few months, but not miracles. There will likely be further setbacks as the pendulum inevitably swings back. As we contemplate the next few months, it’s worth looking at the volatile swings of 2015 from both sides’ on-the-record perspectives.

The December-May unilateral ceasefire

FARC: Government:

We want a bilateral ceasefire as soon as possible, so that the talks may proceed without battlefield distractions. To that end, we declared a unilateral ceasefire of our own in December. We warned that we would end our ceasefire if the government continued to attack us. Though the government called a halt to aerial bombings in March, ground attacks continued. During our truce, the heads of the 57th and 66th Fronts, and the number-two commander of the 17th Front, were killed in attacks.

We have been reluctant to enter into a bilateral ceasefire because we fear the FARC will use the respite from battlefield pressure to strengthen itself militarily. When the FARC declared its unilateral ceasefire in December, we took a “wait and see” attitude, with modest steps toward de-escalation. And in fact, though there was an important drop in FARC attacks, the guerrillas did not cease all hostilities or illegal activity. During their truce, they continued to traffic drugs, to extort legal businesses, and to lay landmines. We could not justify pulling back a military that is reluctant to be restrained.

The April 15 attack in Cauca

FARC: Government:

This action wan’t exactly something that we ordered our fighters to carry out, but it fits within the general orders we gave: the column that launched the attack was being pursued by the military unit it attacked, so we regard their response to be self-defense. (Alternatively: our fighters were finding the unilateral ceasefire intolerable because of the government’s continued attacks, and with this incident we provoked a massive response—a mid-May wave of aerial bombings that killed over 40 guerrillas—that served as a pretext for calling an end to our ceasefire.)

Though the military unit that suffered the attack may not have followed security protocols, the attack itself shows why a unilateral ceasefire with no credible verification was a bad idea. Incidents like this are why we won’t accept a bilateral ceasefire without real verification, some concentration of guerrilla forces in specific areas, and a cessation of all hostilities, not just offensive attacks.

The FARC counter-offensive: May 22-early July

FARC: Government:

After lifting our ceasefire, it was time to remind the Colombian government—and the Colombian people—what we are capable of. We chose to hit almost entirely military and economic targets: rather than kill civilians in populated areas, we turned their lights out. As oil is Colombia’s largest source of foreign exchange, we especially hit the oil sector. Our offensive did some damage to the peace process, but while we bent it, we did not break it. When serious cracks started to show, we declared a new ceasefire and won a government commitment to respond with promises of de-escalation and intensified bilateral ceasefire talks.

The FARC offensive was reckless and counter to the guerrillas’ own self-interest. It increased Colombians’ anger not just against the FARC, but against the whole idea of negotiating with them. After a month of FARC attacks dominating the headlines, political pressures on us are so great that one more serious incident, or one more long period with no progress to show, and—as chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said—“This could end. One day, it’s likely that they won’t find us at the table in Havana.”

The next four months (after which the parties agree to review whether to continue the peace talks)

FARC: Government:

We want a bilateral ceasefire and accept the involvement of the UN and UNASUR in verifying de-escalation, as agreed on July 12. We want that ceasefire to give us the maximum amount of freedom, mobility, and ability to remain funded and equipped in case the talks fail.

We do not intend to sign a peace accord only to see our leaders go straight to a prison for past human rights crimes: that has never happened in any peace process, only in surrender negotiations. However, if Colombia applies a similar punishment standard to military personnel, and to civilians who sponsored paramilitary groups, we could contemplate some form of confinement for a reduced period of time, along with confessions and reparations.

We would prefer a bilateral ceasefire at the very end of the talks, but if it allows the sensitive negotiations over transitional justice to proceed in a calmer atmosphere, we are open to negotiating that bilateral ceasefire now. This ceasefire must have credible, capable verification: while we would rather those verifiers be Colombian, we will allow some international role. The ceasefire must include some concentration of FARC forces in specific zones. In those zones—which must have little population and little economic importance—perhaps the FARC can remain armed and receive financial support to sustain its members. The ceasefire must include a halt to all illegal activity, including extortion, narcotrafficking, laying landmines, and child recruitment.

We are willing to consider lighter alternative sentences—perhaps not even confinement—for the worst FARC human rights violators, and we would prefer that Colombia’s justice system take charge of the prosecution and sentencing. Colombia’s justice system might issue similarly light penalties, including a requirement of confessions and reparations, to members of the military who ordered or committed serious human rights crimes.

Tags: Cease-Fire, Crises, De-escalation

Colombia’s Peace Process: Some Frequently Asked Questions

June 23, 2015

(1,754 words, approximate reading time 8 minutes, 46 seconds)

For over 25 years, the Washington Office on Latin America has closely tracked Colombia’s armed conflict and efforts to end it. With the U.S. House of Representatives holding a hearing about Colombia’s peace process tomorrow, here is our assessment of the current moment.

How would a peace accord benefit U.S. interests in Colombia?

In the 12 years between the launch of “Plan Colombia” (2000) and the relaunch of talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas (2012), Colombia tripled its defense budget and increased its armed forces by about 75 percent. A long offensive decreased the FARC’s size by about two-thirds. Today, this means that the FARC still has about 7,000 members and 15,000 support personnel. Though the FARC has no hope of taking power by force, the past 12 years’ rate of reduction promises years of continued conflict.

After 51 years of fighting, negotiation offers a quicker way to end the FARC’s status as a cause of violence and drug production. A peace accord would dissolve a group on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, as thousands of its members move into legality. This would ease efforts to reduce production and transshipment of U.S.-bound illegal drugs. And it would offer an opportunity for improved governance over historically lawless territories that provide safe haven to terror groups and traffickers.

Is a peace accord likely?

Yes, but getting there will be slow. Formal negotiations began two and a half years ago, and could easily take another year. Nonetheless, negotiators at the table are working in a disciplined way with international accompaniment, respecting the ground rules and generating hundreds of pages of proposals and dozens of pages of draft accords.

Negotiators have signed preliminary accords on rural development, political participation for the opposition, reforms to drug policy, and a truth commission. They have taken some steps toward de-escalating the conflict: the FARC is cooperating with the government on initial de-mining projects, and has agreed to turn over any minors in its ranks under the age of 15.


Negotiators announce agreement on a Truth Commission in June.

Still, some of the most difficult questions remain unresolved. Negotiators must find a way to hold human rights abusers accountable while also persuading them to disarm. They still must come to agreement on reparations to victims, the nature of combatants’ disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, and the method of ratifying a final agreement.

The negotiations are going on without a ceasefire, amid frequently intense combat. This is a deliberate choice of the Colombian government, which is concerned that the FARC might use a ceasefire to regroup and reinforce itself. President Juan Manuel Santos insists that a bilateral cease-fire must wait until the end of the process. In the meantime, acts of violence undermine public support for the dialogues, and affect the climate at the negotiating table.

Are the talks in a rough patch?

Yes. The FARC had declared a unilateral cease-fire effective December 20, 2014, which brought an approximately 85 percent reduction in guerrilla offensive actions (though guerrilla “fundraising” activities, like extortion and narcotrafficking, continued). The ceasefire was not reciprocal: though the government halted aerial bombings of FARC targets in March, the guerrillas complained of frequent military ground attacks.

On April 15, FARC fighters attacked a military column encamped in a rural town in southwestern Colombia, killing 11 soldiers. The guerrillas refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, and the government responded by resuming aerial bombings, including three raids in May that killed over 40 FARC members. The FARC revoked its cease-fire on May 22, and has since carried out a steady campaign of attacks on civilian economic infrastructure. Attacks on oil pipelines and power lines are causing environmental damage and blackouts.


The aftermath of the April 15 FARC attack.

What does public opinion say?

The guerrilla offensive has dangerously drained support for the talks. In late February, during the guerrillas’ unilateral cease-fire, Colombia’s bimonthly Gallup poll found 72 percent of respondents supporting the government’s decision to negotiate with the FARC. For only the second time since the talks started, Gallup found a majority—53 percent—optimistic that an accord might be reached. Two months later, those numbers fell to 57 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

Would a ceasefire help?

Some analysts contend that the guerrillas are deliberately seeking to anger Colombians, in the belief that President Santos might agree to a bilateral cease-fire to save the peace process. This is a miscalculation: public fatigue with the peace process makes it more likely that the government might walk away from the talks completely.

Tags: Cease-Fire, Crises, U.S. Policy

What Now? De-Escalate. Consider a Bilateral Cease-Fire.

May 28, 2015
Poll data published in early May show 64% of Colombians favoring deadlines for peace talks, and 69% feeling pessimistic about the possibility of reaching an accord.

(2,008 words, approximate reading time 10 minutes, 2 seconds)

Colombia’s peace process with the FARC continues to wobble from the blow dealt by the April 15 guerrilla attack that killed 11 soldiers in southwestern Colombia. Just since May 21, Colombia’s military has launched retaliatory raids on FARC positions that have killed at least 40 guerrillas, including two who spent time as negotiators in Havana. The FARC has responded by revoking the unilateral cease-fire it had declared on December 20, and by launching attacks of its own.

On May 25, as negotiators sat down in Havana for a delayed start to their 37th round of talks, FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo told reporters, “The sorrowful events that occurred last week are a step backward in the advances made until now at the table.” Headlines in Colombia’s press now refer to “The Wounded Peace,” “A Return To Dialogue Amid War,” and (citing the Colombian government’s Inspector-General, a critic of the process) “Peace Process In Intensive Care.”

The fundamentals are sound, for now

The April 15 FARC attack was, for most Colombians, the unofficial end of the unilateral cease-fire that the guerrillas had declared on December 20 and canceled on May 22. Still, despite continued wobbles, this remains fundamentally the same peace process that it was on April 14, the day before the FARC attack.

  • On April 14, the negotiators were discussing transitional justice and disarmament, the last two substantive items (and likely the two most difficult) on their agenda. They were doing so in a disciplined manner, following agreed-upon ground rules, considering detailed proposals, working with international accompaniment, and respecting confidentiality. They are still doing that.
  • On April 14, a group of active-duty military personnel, part of an “end of conflict subcommittee,” was discussing the technical details of disarmament, as well as how to implement interim de-escalation measures, especially a joint de-mining program. They are still doing that. In fact, leading guerrilla negotiators quietly visited Antioquia and Meta departments recently to lay groundwork for the first landmine removal projects.
  • On April 14, outside observers and foreign governments were focusing not just on remaining negotiation items, but on preparation for post-conflict challenges. They remain focused on the post-conflict.

On the other hand:

  • On April 14, polls [PDF] were, for one the first times since talks began, showing a majority of Colombians believing that a peace accord with the FARC might be possible. Today, that is once again a minority view inside Colombia.
  • On April 14, the FARC was in its fourth month of a cease-fire that—though unilateral and barely verified, and thus fatally flawed—had brought measures of conflict-related violence down to lows not seen since 1984, according to CERAC, a Bogotá think-tank that closely monitors violence. The 153-day stoppage in guerrilla offensive actions may have prevented about 614 dead or wounded, estimated Bogotá’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation. Still, CERAC points out, the temporary truce may have allowed FARC units “to maintain or improve their position in exploiting illegal income from illicit crops, narcotrafficking, illegal mining, illegal timber harvesting, and extortion.”

Either way, that flawed cease-fire is now over, and we are about to find out the extent to which events on the battlefield affect dynamics at the negotiating table. It is unclear how many more “wobbles” this process can sustain, yet the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation asserts that more are coming: “We have information that the FARC are ready to respond with actions against oil and energy infrastructure, which could end in confrontations in many zones of the country,” said the group’s director, León Valencia.

The push to “accelerate”

With no cease-fire in place and public opinion now skeptical, patience is wearing thin. A broad spectrum of actors—the Colombian government, the U.S. government, the United Nations, former FMLN and IRA fighters—are calling on both sides to speed the tempo of the dialogues, at a time when the negotiators are considering some of the most sensitive topics on the entire agenda.

At this moment, the negotiators in Havana face three options. All are very difficult.

Tags: Cease-Fire, Crises, De-escalation

Getting the FARC Process Back on Track: Cease-Fire Talks, Not Deadlines

April 21, 2015

(1,242 words, approximate reading time 6 minutes, 12 seconds)

Colombia’s peace process is still reeling from the blow dealt by a FARC unit in rural Cauca department, in the country’s southwest, in the pre-dawn hours of April 15. Guerrillas surrounded, threw grenades at, and opened fire on a military detachment taking refuge from a rainstorm under the roof of a sports facility in the village of La Esperanza. The attack killed 11 soldiers and 2 guerrillas; 17 soldiers were wounded.

The incident has set back much of the progress that guerrilla and government negotiators in Havana have made since December in de-escalating the conflict, and in building public support for talks. President Juan Manuel Santos immediately lifted a month-old suspension of bomb attacks on FARC targets, a move the U.S. government quickly supported. While FARC negotiators insisted on characterizing the attack as a response to military aggression, lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle lamented that “hope has been fractured” by the incident. Critics of the talks on Colombia’s political right, like former President Álvaro Uribe and Inspector-General Alejandro Ordóñez, went on the attack. President Santos was booed at two public events.

This is shaping up to be the most damaging crisis that the FARC talks have faced in their two and a half years. At the same time, it is typical—almost a textbook case—of the sort of crisis that hits just about every effort to negotiate an end to armed conflict. It is a foreseeable consequence of negotiating without a cease-fire in place, or—since the FARC declared a unilateral cease-fire in December—of negotiating with a unilateral, barely verified cease-fire in place.

This is a setback, but it need not be permanent. Restoring momentum to the negotiation and the de-escalation effort will require action.

First, figure out what happened in La Esperanza. The evidence—witness testimony, forensics and ballistics—points to a cold-blooded, disproportionate guerrilla attack. Still, this characterization needs to be ratified, nuanced, or disproved by an independent investigation of what happened.

It is virtually certain that a review of the evidence will find that the FARC patrol used excessive force and violated the dictates of its own cease-fire. Having an impartial body say that, though, can make it possible for the FARC leadership to admit publicly that its fighters acted in error.

Right now, the guerrilla negotiators in Havana can’t do that. They risk leaving the impression that they are internally divided or have lost control over their fighters. To admit wrongdoing would call into question their ability to “deliver” the FARC membership upon signature of a peace accord.

After contact with authorities and with both soldiers and FARC fighters present at the incident, investigators—perhaps, as the International Crisis Group has suggested, from the guarantor countries, Cuba and Norway—could offer conclusions about why the FARC assailants acted as they did. Were they dissidents acting out, or did they truly believe they were respecting the top leadership’s order to desist from offensive attacks?

We need to know the answer to that. If the attackers were dissidents trying to damage the process, the FARC should recognize that and hold them accountable. If the attack owed to a commander’s poor judgment of his duties, the FARC should acknowledge it.

Tags: Cease-Fire, De-escalation

Suspending Bombings, a Common-Sense Step

March 12, 2015

“I have decided to give the order to the Minister of Defense and the commanders of the armed forces to cease bombings over the FARC’s encampments during one month,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on the evening of March 10.

Santos based this decision on the “advances” of peace talks with the FARC, which are “entering in a definitive phase.” He also cited the guerrilla group’s compliance with a unilateral cease-fire that it declared on December 20.

This is the first time that the Colombian government has suspended aerial bombings since 1984. With U.S. support, Colombia’s military has relied on its “air superiority” to kill top FARC leaders, and in general to make conditions intolerable for FARC fighters. “For fear of being located and targeted, units no longer sleep in the same place two days in a row, so camps must be sparser,” noted an extensive 2013 Washington Post report on Colombia’s air campaign.

This campaign is now on hold. And that makes sense now, for five reasons.

  • It eases the de-escalation of Colombia’s conflict. In early December, after the FARC released a general whom it had captured two weeks earlier, negotiators agreed to begin discussing “the issue of the conflict’s de-escalation.” Since then, the FARC have declared a unilateral suspension of offensive attacks, modestly limited their recruitment of minors, and agreed to participate in a humanitarian demining project. The government has been unwilling to declare an immediate bilateral cease-fire, but has been quietly reducing the intensity of its military actions against the FARC. The halt to bombings announced on March 10 is the Colombian government’s first explicitly declared reciprocation. It gives fresh momentum to the drive to de-escalate.
  • It probably formalizes a de facto situation. President Santos’s announcement was the “formalization of the virtual bilateral cease-fire that has already existed since mid-December,” Jorge Restrepo of the conflict-monitoring group CERAC told Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper. The guerrillas periodically issue statements listing military attacks on FARC targets during the cease-fire period; none have mentioned an aerial attack since early January. A de facto halt to aerial bombings may already exist.
  • It may have saved the FARC truce after a big Colombian military strike. On Sunday, Colombia’s army gave the FARC what El Tiempo called “the hardest blow against them of the past two years.” Troops killed José David Suárez, alias “Becerro,” the leader of the FARC’s 57th Front in northern Chocó, a strategic trafficking zone along the border with Panama. It was not an aerial attack: troops acting on a tip from police intelligence ambushed Becerro after “spending almost eight days camouflaged in the swamp” awaiting him. Last year, a report by the organized-crime monitoring group InsightCrime called the 57th “one of the FARC’s richest units.” This week, InsightCrime asked whether Becerro’s killing would “rock Colombia’s peace talks.”

    When the FARC declared its cease-fire in December, its statement warned that it would abandon it if the government kept attacking FARC targets. The Santos government’s decision to cease aerial bombings—announced two days after Becerro’s killing—should prevent the FARC from deciding to do that.

  • It eases FARC negotiators’ efforts to keep their rank and file supportive of peace talks. We don’t know to what extent FARC fighters in rural Colombia have actually bought into the Havana negotiations. It’s not hard to imagine them envying the safety that the negotiators enjoy; disagreeing with peace accords they view as insufficiently radical; or feeling constrained by the cease-fire. For them to continue going along with the peace process, the rank-and-file needs to see some benefits. The government moratorium on bombing gives guerrilla fighters a big psychological benefit: it is a guarantee that, if they remain on their encampments, they need not live under constant alert for the sound of approaching aircraft.

  • The FARC was adjusting to the aerial bombing strategy anyway. That, anyway, is the contention of an article in the Medellín daily El Colombiano that contends, “The regularity of this type of offensive has been diminished by the change in the guerrilla strategy in response to the state’s pursuit.” The FARC “changed its way of operating and its encampment culture,” explains Ariel Ávila of Bogotá’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation think-tank.

Tags: Cease-Fire, De-escalation

Bilateral Cease-Fire: What Must Be Negotiated?

January 16, 2015
President Santos last night, announcing his intention to negotiate a bilateral cease-fire with the FARC.

“I have given instructions to the negotiators that they start, as soon as possible, the discussion on the point of the bilateral and definitive cease-fire and cessation of hostilities.”

That was Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, making a rather surprising announcement in the first moments of his televised 2015 new year’s address.

In the nearly two and a half years since peace talks began, the Colombian government had refused the FARC guerrillas’ calls for a bilateral cease-fire, insisting on fighting while negotiations proceeded. Now, one month after the FARC declared a “unilateral, indefinite” but conditional cease-fire, President Santos is talking about making it bilateral. The talks are in such a mature phase, it seems, that the guns and bombs may soon go silent as both sides abstain from offensive actions.

This is a transcendental step. But one might reasonably ask: “If the FARC already wants and has declared a cease-fire, what is there to negotiate?”

There is much to define. “Cease fire” and “cessation of hostilities” are vague terms. When they return to the table on January 26, negotiators—especially the “end of conflict subcommittee” made up of Colombian military personnel and FARC leaders—will have to consider questions like the following.

  • Who would verify it? If the parties at the table in Havana lose time arguing over alleged cease-fire violations, the negotiating agenda could get derailed. Some trusted third party, perhaps an international entity, may be needed to investigate and rule on such allegations.
  • Can the Colombian security forces go after non-participants? In many areas, the FARC are not the only active armed or organized-crime group. The Colombian government is charged with protecting its citizens throughout the national territory and will insist on being able to confront these groups—as well as to confront FARC elements that, in its view, have gone rogue or broken away.
  • Will this be a “cease-fire in place?” The government might suggest that, in order to verify the cease-fire more easily, the FARC concentrate its members in specific locations. The guerrillas will reject this.
  • If guerrillas are not concentrated in specific locations, can the security forces carry out arrest warrants for wanted guerrilla leaders? If the authorities locate or encounter a known and wanted FARC leader, Colombia will insist on the ability to arrest that leader despite the cease-fire.

Tags: Cease-Fire

“There Are Other Circumstances Now”

January 6, 2015
Yesterday, from left to right: lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle, President Juan Manuel Santos, and High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo.

With his declaration about the FARC peace talks yesterday, President Juan Manuel Santos took a big step toward de-escalating Colombia’s conflict.

Santos was indirect, but hinted that—as long as current conditions prevail—the government and guerrillas are approaching a sort of undeclared, de facto cease-fire. Or at least, that the government is no longer insisting on total war on the battlefield while talks proceed at the table.

A translation of the key section:

Of course, we have taken very much into consideration the unilateral and indefinite cease-fire that the FARC declared. And on this point we must recognize that the FARC have complied.

We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative of a unilateral cease-fire, as the FARC did.

Until now, we have followed that maxim made famous by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, where he said that we must negotiate as though the war or conflict didn’t exist, and we had to maintain the military offensive as though the peace process didn’t exist.

But the advances in the negotiations indicate to us that there are other circumstances now, and that this disconnect is no longer applicable.

Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper explained:

Sources close to the peace process confirmed to El Tiempo that, while this doesn’t refer directly to a “bilateral cease-fire,” which would imply a halt to the security forces’ offensive actions against the FARC, the message of “de-escalation” will begin to be reinforced so that society may understand that a definitive stage of the negotiations has been entered.

El Tiempo noted that the armed forces’ high command asked for clarification last night from Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón. The response came this afternoon in a tweet from the President: “Instructions to the Armed Forces have not changed. Bilateral cease-fire will be discussed when the appropriate moment arrives.”

If this sounds a bit contradictory, so is the situation on the ground. While not quite a bilateral cease-fire, the de facto battlefield status can be summed up in two events that took place on December 31:

  • That day, Colombia’s CERAC think-tank, which monitors conflict activity, reported: “CERAC’s violence monitoring has not registered a single offensive act attributable to the FARC that would violate its cease-fire. Nor have we registered any offensive action against the FARC on the security forces’ part.”
  • That evening, Army soldiers, police, and Prosecutors’ Office police captured Carlos Andrés Bustos Cortez, alias “Richard,” identified as the second-in-command of the FARC’s powerful Teófilo Forero Column in the southwestern department of Huila. “Richard” was located by a joint intelligence operation, and captured after a brief firefight in which he was wounded.

Tags: Cease-Fire, De-escalation

Before a Bilateral Ceasefire, “Humanitarian De-Escalation”

December 21, 2014
FARC negotiators meet with survivors of the 2002 Bojayá massacre on December 18.

El Tiempo Editor Marisol Gómez Giraldo offers a clear but largely optimistic overview today of where discussions of “de-escalation” stand, following the FARC’s declaration of a unilateral, conditional cease-fire and the government’s refusal to accept the guerrillas’ terms.

Key paragraphs:

If the Havana negotiations follow the logic that the parties expect, this clear gesture of peace from the FARC should be followed, in a gradual process, by the de-escalation of the conflict, a bilateral cease-fire, and the abandonment of arms. And that this depends, in principle, on the guerrilla group, because the results of their cessation of offensive operations should first be reflected among the civilian population.

At the outset, this means the diminution of the war’s intensity, reducing its impact on civilians. That is why the government, in a first phase, calls it “humanitarian de-escalation.” This is what the government and FARC negotiators have currently been talking about in Havana.

Military de-escalation, which also implies a withdrawal of the armed forces, is for a second phase. For when it has been proved that the guerrillas are not using the truce to prolong the peace negotiations.

It is, in fact, one of the reasons why President Juan Manuel Santos repeats that the bilateral cease-fire will only happen when abandonment of weapons has already begun to occur.

Tags: Cease-Fire, De-escalation

The FARC’s Unilateral Truce Offer: Good News, But New Questions

December 18, 2014

The FARC today released a potentially historic statement. The key sentences:

“We have resolved to declare a UNILATERAL CESSATION OF FIRE AND OF HOSTILITIES FOR AN INDEFINITE PERIOD, which should transform itself into an armistice. For the achievement of its full success, we aspire to count with the oversight of UNASUR, CELAC, the ICRC, and the Broad Front for Peace. This unilateral cease-fire, which we hope to prolong over time, would end only if it is proven that our guerrilla structures have been the object of attacks from the security forces.”

A full cease-fire and cessation of hostilities would be very welcome. Even just a cessation of force-on-force combat would be welcome. Since 2012, the FARC’s declarations of unilateral holiday and election-season cease-fires have reduced tensions and strengthened confidence in the peace process. To prolong this indefinitely—as long as government forces halt offensive operations—would give hundreds of communities a chance to know peace, in some cases for the first time in their citizens’ lifetimes.

The FARC statement, though, does not define the key phrase “cessation of fire and of hostilities.” What are “hostilities?” It’s virtually certain that the FARC intends to halt attacks on military and police targets, and presumably on civilian populations and public infrastructure. But what about other hostile acts?

  • Does the term cover extortion, perhaps the FARC “hostility” that Colombians feel the most?
  • Does it cover guerrilla recruitment (especially of minors)?
  • The laying of anti-personnel mines and IEDs?
  • Coca cultivation and cocaine production? Illegal mining? Illicit arms purchases?
  • Does a “cessation of hostilities” mean an end to threats against civilians? Does an individual threatened by FARC fighters—for instance, one whom the guerrillas accuse of being a “snitch”—suddenly have nothing to fear from them?

To cease committing these “other hostile acts” would be to bring an unprecedented level of tranquility to vast areas of Colombia. But doing so is far harder to verify than a more basic cease-fire, in which both sides merely abstain from attacking military targets. No organization has the capacity to investigate and certify that all guerrilla extortion, laying of landmines, and forced recruitment have truly ceased throughout the country.

Tags: Cease-Fire, De-escalation

As Talks Resume, “De-escalation” Is on the Table

December 3, 2014

Update 2:00PM: Negotiators in Havana have just announced that the peace talks will formally resume on December 10. Colombia’s El Tiempo reports, “Starting on December 10, they will dedicate themselves to discussing the issue of de-escalation of the conflict.”

On Sunday, FARC guerrillas released Gen. Rubén Darío Alzate and two others whom they had held for two weeks in Chocó, in northwestern Colombia. On Monday, the Colombian government ended its suspension of peace talks, sending four senior negotiators to Havana to meet with the guerrillas for two days. The sides met for four hours Tuesday, in “an atmosphere of cordiality and respect.” They are meeting again Wednesday.

But they are not picking up where they left off, continuing their discussion of “Victims,” the dialogues’ fourth agenda point. Instead, President Juan Manuel Santos explained, the negotiators are in Havana “for a couple of days to evaluate where the process is, where we’re going, and to do a cold, objective evaluation of the process, to see how we can continue.”

This probably means that we can expect some rewriting of the ground rules that have governed the peace talks since 2012. These specified that although the FARC had to abandon its practice of kidnapping civilians, the conflict could otherwise continue while talks proceed. There would be no cessation of hostilities, and what happens on the battlefield would not affect what happens at the table.

Dialogue amid conflict has not been easy. In July, after the FARC bombed several civilian energy infrastructure targets—a violation of International Humanitarian Law but not a violation of the talks’ "ground rules”—President Santos warned, “Keep this up and you are playing with fire and this process can end.” (The attacks died down.) And then on November 16, guerrillas captured Gen. Alzate. While this was an unplanned event—Gen. Alzate wandered, dressed as a civilian, into a town where FARC fighters were present—and although capturing enemy prisoners is a common act of war, the General’s capture proved too much for the Colombian government, which immediately suspended the peace talks.

The government has made clear that “negotiating amid conflict” has tacit limits. These limits have become tighter as the peace process has progressed. Today in Havana, the government likely wants to make them more formal.

The guerrillas likely agree with that, in broad terms. They probably expect some guarantees, or restraint, from the government in return for releasing Gen. Alzate. If capturing military officers is now “against the rules,” they will seek new rules that are more favorable to their fighters in the field.

“Those who suspended the conversations cannot return with the intention of imposing the date of their re-initiation, as though nothing has happened,” reads a FARC communiqué issued Monday. “The rules guiding the process will have to be re-made, since the government broke them, damaging the bridge of trust that we had built.”

The FARC wants a full, bilateral cease-fire. That is unlikely. The government argues that the FARC would use the resulting respite to re-arm and strengthen itself. It would be hard to get the Colombian military to go along with a bilateral truce. And it would be nearly impossible to verify: the talks’ agenda could be derailed as negotiators in Havana argue over reports of bombings, ambushes, killings and similar alleged cease-fire violations.

Instead, the word we are hearing most often right now is “de-escalation.”

Tags: Cease-Fire, Crises, De-escalation