Tension as Colombian government defies opponents over peace deal


Colombia’s government on Wednesday prepared to push through a revised peace accord to end its half-century conflict with leftist FARC rebels, fanning resentment by political opponents who vowed to resist it.

Under pressure for fear that a fragile ceasefire could break down, the government and the leftist FARC said they will sign the new deal Thursday and immediately take it to congress.

Government officials were meeting to put finishing touches on the document, which is expected to be debated next week and then passed, since President Juan Manuel Santos and his allies hold a majority in the legislature.

A recent wave of alleged assassinations in conflict areas has raised pressure to seal a peace deal fast.

“There is no time to lose,” Santos said late Tuesday. “Therefore on Thursday we will sign this new accord.”

But an aftermath of discord and uncertainty looked likely as opponents who complain the deal is too soft on the Marxist rebels promised to keep resisting it.

“We invite citizens to persist in the struggle for the future of democracy,” said the Democratic Center Party led by conservative ex-president Alvaro Uribe.

“In the coming days, we will examine various actions to call the people into the streets and democratic spaces,” it said in a statement.

– Opposition’s objections –

Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londono signed an earlier version of the deal in a triumphant ceremony with international leaders on September 27.

But Colombians narrowly rejected it in a referendum on October 2.

Government and FARC negotiators redrafted the deal and presented a new version earlier this month.

But Uribe said it still did not go far enough.

Under the deal, the FARC would disarm and transform into a political party.

Among their key demands, Uribe and his allies want tougher punishments for rebel leaders convicted of atrocities.

They should not be allowed to run for office while still serving their sentences, the deal’s opponents say.

They also want guarantees for state police and soldiers who may face trial over their actions in the conflict.

A survey by pollster Datexco published on Wednesday found that 58 percent of people want more revisions to the deal, in line with opposition demands.

– Congress debate Tuesday –

The accord would be presented to congress on Thursday afternoon and debated from next Tuesday, Senate speaker Mauricio Lizcano said in comments broadcast on radio.

Going through congress enables Santos to avoid the risk of further humiliation in a referendum.

The legislature “has the legitimacy of the popular vote,” he said.

Uribe’s party has demanded a second referendum, accusing Santos of using congress to impose his new deal on the people.

The former president “has never wanted peace, only the defeat of the FARC, which he couldn’t achieve,” one of the rebel group’s commanders, Pablo Catatumbo, said on Twitter.

– Fragile ceasefire –

A two-way ceasefire between the government and FARC has been in force since August, but both sides have warned it is fragile.

Ahead of the referendum, the FARC’s 5,700 fighters had gathered in jungle bases, waiting to demobilize.

Santos met with top officials on Tuesday to tackle a recent wave of alleged political killings in the south.

Fears for the ceasefire had already risen last week when two FARC guerrillas were killed in what the authorities said was a clash with the army.

“Lives have been lost and many more are in danger,” Santos said on Tuesday.

“We could not forgive ourselves if we do not act swiftly and firmly to fix this situation.”

The Colombian conflict started in 1964 when the FARC formed to fight for land rights in rural communities.

The fighting drew in various left- and right-wing armed groups, state forces and gangs.

The conflict has killed at least 260,000 people and displaced seven million, according to the authorities.

© 2016 AFP

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