Colombia peace deal in tatters, EU stance on FARC group unclear

Colombia's wounds from decades of conflict were apparently still too raw, as its citizens narrowly voted to reject a peace deal. [Shutterstock]

Colombia is struggling to save a peace deal that stumbled at the last hurdle, when the country’s citizens voted to reject an agreement that would have put an end to decades of conflict. The EU said it would respect the outcome of the referendum.

After voters rejected the deal in a referendum, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he had asked the government’s chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle to start talks in order to “realise the dream of every Colombian to end the war with the FARC”.

The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londono, meanwhile said in a video from Havana, where the peace talks were held, that the Marxist guerrillas, like the government, remained committed to an ongoing ceasefire.

Londono said the rebels were prepared to “fix” the rejected deal and added that the result “does not mean the battle for peace is lost”, he said.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who had been involved closely with peace talks since taking up office in 2014, said Europe respected the “sovereign choice” of the Colombian people, and would continue to support all steps toward securing a permanent end to violence.

The European Council suspended the guerrilla group from its terrorist blacklist ahead of the vote and the EU had indicated that it would consider removing FARC permanently if the deal was pushed through, but any chance of that happening now appears to have gone up in smoke.

The EU’s decision means that sanctions against the group have been temporarily lifted and financial assets have been unfrozen. How long this will last in the wake of the No vote remains to be seen.

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had offered a UN team to oversee the disarmament process, said he had “urgently” sent his Colombia envoy to Havana, where the four-year talks have been held, for new consultations.

But the outcome left no clear path to end a conflict that has claimed more than 260,000 lives and left 45,000 missing. Opinion polls had showed the “Yes” camp well ahead, and negotiators had said there was no Plan B in the event of a “No” vote.

Although the deal was hailed as historic, many Colombians resented the blood shed by the Marxist guerrillas and the lenient punishment the deal meted out for their crimes and ultimately rejected the agreement by a razor-thin margin: 50.21% for the “No” camp to 49.78% for “Yes”. Turnout was just 37%.

Although a referendum was not required to adopt the deal, Santos insisted on holding one to ensure its legitimacy.

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Commentators compared the result’s effect to June’s surprise Brexit vote for Britain to leave the European Union, as forecasts apparently miscalculated Colombians’ desire to punish the FARC.

The accord’s call for the FARC’s 5,765 rebels to disarm and the group to become a political party with guaranteed seats in Congress was a particular point of division for the country’s voters.

The FARC launched its guerrilla war in 1964 after the army crushed a peasant uprising and over the years the conflict has drawn in several leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.

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