Colombia: FARC peace agreement takes effect

With Colombia's Congress voting to approve the revised peace accord with the FARC rebels, the country is on a countdown to the full demobilization of the guerilla army. Both houses voted unanimously—75-0 in the Senate Nov. 30, and 130-0 in the Chamber of Deputies the following day. house ratified the pact a day after it was endorsed by the Senate, despite objections from the opposition. The agreement was approved in the lower house by 130-0, a day after the Senate ratified it 75-0. Lawmakers from Alvaro Uribe's hard-right opposition bloc walked out of both houses in protest before the votes were taken. President Juan Manuel Santos said that Dec. 1 is "D-Day," with the pact to be instituted immediately. 

All FARC adherents are to be gathered in designated "concentration zones" around the country by year's end. Their disarmament is to be carried out in phases between then and March. Within six months, the FARC is to re-organize as a legal political party, and the peace process will be considered complete. (Colombia ReportsBBC News, PRI, CSM, Dec. 1; Colombia Reports, Nov. 30)

Civil mobilizations are continuing to keep up the pressure for peace. As the votes were taken, a group of victims of the conflict and surviving kin held a public vigil and fast for peace at an encampment in Cali's central Plazoleta de San Francisco. The vigil leaders were family members of 12 regional legislative deputies from Valle del Cauca department who were abducted by the guerillas in a 2002 raid on the assembly building in Cali, all but one later slain. FARC leaders have agreed to meet with the survivors this week in a public act of repentance. (El Pais, Cali, Dec. 2; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Nov. 30)

Despite the progress, there have been some ominous signs that it could all break down. Colombian media have made much of charges by FARC leader "Timochenko" that the armed forces intentionally humiliated him as a message during the Cartagena ceremony where the first abortive peace deal was signed in September (later rejected by voters in a national plebiscite). His speech at the ceremony was interrupted as a squadron of the Colombian air force's Israeli-supplied Kfir fighter jets passed overhead. The planes were ostensibly there as part of the aerobatic display for the ceremony. But Timochenko published a statement on the FARC website calling the stunt "threatening," as well as "inopportune, impertinent and highly dangerous." (InfoBae, Dec. 2; El Tiempo, Oct. 1)

The United Nations-led ceasefire observation body, the Tripartite Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, determined that both the FARC and Colombian armed forces violated terms of the ceasefire when the truce was breached in a brief clash that left three guerillas dead in southern Bolívar department on Nov. 13. Both parties accepted the body's determination. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 1; Colombia Reports, Nov. 20; Colombia Reports, Nov. 16)

Planned talks with Colombia's second guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), have now been put off until Jan. 10. Scheduled to convene in Quito over the past month, the talks were repeatedly stalled over the ELN's failure to release ex-congressman Odín Sánchez, being held by the guerillas in Chocó department. The government demanded he be released before the talks opened, while the ELN said he would be freed when the first round of talks was completed. The ELN is also demanding that the government release of two of its adherents now held in Colombian prisons, Wigberto Chamorro and Juan Cuellar. The guerilla group says the two will become "agents of peace" upon their release. Chamorro, arrested for kidnapping a US citizen in 2014, is the brother of ELN second-in-command "Antonio García." (Colombia Reports, Dec. 2)

And fighting goes on across much of Colombia's countryside. National news magazine Semana this week headlines that "the war continues" in the Catatumbo Valley of Norte de Santander department, where government troops are battling the ELN, a third guerilla group known as the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and right-wing paramilitaries. The army says the three factions are fighting for control of narco networks in the region, especially naming Los Pelusos paramilitary network, local arm of the Clan del Golfo (AKA Los Urabeños). Video footage shows heavy fighting for control of an army outpost in Catatumbo with fighters from an unidentified faction.