Colombian president meeting rival Uribe in bid to save peace


Thu, Oct 06, 2016 - Page 7

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is moving quickly on two fronts to save a peace deal narrowly rejected by Colombian voters, holding talks in Cuba with leftist rebels while inviting his chief opponent, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, for a rare face-to-face meeting.

Government officials led by chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle on Tuesday met with their counterparts from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Cuba’s capital to check on the rebels’ willingness to reopen negotiations.

Santos, after a day of consultations with business leaders and evangelical Christians, who campaigned hard against the accord, said he was extending the ceasefire with FARC until Oct. 31 to give peace a chance.

“Time is very important. We cannot prolong this process and this dialogue for a long time because we are in a gray zone, a sort of limbo, that is risky and can wash away the entire process,” Santos said.

Any renegotiation would likely lead to tougher terms for the rebels than the ones in the accord reached in August, and it is not clear if the rebels are ready to return to the drawing board.

Shortly after Santos announced he was extending the ceasefire, FARC leader Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez tweeted: “And after that the war continues?”

Showing what is at stake if Santos’ gamble fails, another FARC commander, known by his alias Pastor Alape, said on Twitter that all FARC troops “should move to secure positions, to avoid provocations.”

Ever since the deal was narrowly rejected in a referendum on Sunday, FARC leaders have made clear they have no intention of resuming warfare, but also insisted the vote has no legal implications and the deal signed last month in front of several heads of state is final.

If Santos needs FARC’s support to prevent the peace deal from collapsing, both parties need the help of the man who led the campaign against the accord: Uribe.

The two men on Tuesday spoke by phone and set up a meeting for yesterday at the presidential palace in what is believed to be their first encounter in years. Neither the government nor Uribe said what would be on the agenda.

Both men, at least publicly, have tried to project a conciliatory tone since voters rejected the accord, unlike the public feuding and trading of insults to which Colombians have grown accustomed in recent times.

Prior to the referendum, polls had indicated the “yes” vote was winning by an almost two-to-one margin.

However, Uribe tapped into widespread resentment of the rebels. Specifically, he argued that provisions for keeping rebels who committed serious war crimes from going to jail and instead awarding them with seats in congress insulted victims and set a bad example that criminal gangs would seize on.