A ceasefire declared by Colombia’s FARC rebels this week will prove impossible to verify without external monitoring, with the government already accusing rebels of violations and other armed groups still active.
When there are clashes, we cannot know if it is offensive action or a defensive response
The FARC promised a unilateral two-month halt to military operations Monday at the start of its latest negotiations with the Government – being held in Cuba – but experts say the gesture may have little effect.
“The truce is absolutely unverifiable on the ground, because there is nobody to control or regulate it,” said Alfredo Rangel, director of the Security and Democracy Foundation in Colombia, a think-tank that has studied the conflict.
“When there are clashes we cannot know if it is offensive action from the guerrillas, or a defensive response to an attack from military forces of the government” which has pledged to continue its operations against the FARC.
No international verification measure has ever been established over the decades-long Colombian conflict, responsible for killing hundreds of thousands.
The lack of enforcement measures or observer controls was blamed for the failure of a bilateral ceasefire in the 1980s, the first of three unsuccessful attempts at achieving peace. Neither side respected the truce and each blamed the other for the unrest that swept the country, Rangel said.
The eagerly-watched peace talks in Cuba, following the start of a dialogue in Norway one month ago, have raised hopes of finally ending what is Latin America’s longest-running insurgency.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia first took up arms in 1964 in fury over land ownership, which rests in the hands of a few in the country.
Alejo Vargas, a Colombian political scientist, noted that any truce relies on a system of verification and that the FARC are ultimately unlikely to admit where their existing forces are located.
And Javier Ciurlizza, Latin American program director for the conflict-monitoring International Crisis Group, added that the only existing methods to measure a ceasefire will be media reports and rival statements.
The best method for checking would be reliance on humanitarian agencies who are on the ground in conflict areas, Ciurlizza said.
An international group such as the Organisation of American States (OAS), often used as a mediator in Latin American disputes, could also possibly step in.
A key problem, however, is that Colombia’s security forces have said they will not reduce the pressure they have been exerting on the rebels in recent years, which has resulted in major military successes for the government.
The FARC’s numbers have been cut over the past decade due to a US-backed manhunt, but around 9,200 fighters are still hiding out in rural areas, the Government estimates.
Army officials contend that the rebels have broken the truce in recent days, particularly in Cauca province in the south.
“On the one hand the FARC waves a white flag, while with the other it continues to detonate mines on soldiers,” said General Jorge Humberto Jerez, a commander in Cauca, a mountainous region and major drug trafficking route.
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