Colombian government, FARC rebels agree to discuss 'adjustments' to peace deal

The Colombian government and FARC rebels have agreed to discuss "adjustments" to a contested peace deal and continue a bilateral ceasefire.
The Colombian government and FARC rebels have agreed to discuss "adjustments" to a contested peace deal and continue a bilateral ceasefire. PHOTO: AFP

HAVANA (AFP) - The Colombian government and FARC rebels said on Friday (Oct 7) they have agreed to discuss "adjustments" to a contested peace deal and continue a bilateral ceasefire.

In a further boost to peace after President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize, the two sides said in a joint statement that they will "continue listening" to opponents of the deal - which was voted down in a referendum on Sunday - and discuss changes "to give guarantees to all".

The head of FARC congratulated his former adversary, Mr Santos, on Friday for winning the Nobel Peace Prize after the two signed a contested peace accord.

"I congratulate President Juan Manuel Santos, Cuba and Norway, who sponsored the process, and Venezuela and Chile, who assisted it," FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, alias Timoleon "Timochenko" Jimenez, wrote on Twitter. "Without them, peace would be impossible."

The award was unexpected after voters rejected the accord Mr Santos signed last month with Timochenko, with some observers expressing surprise the rebel chief did not jointly receive the prize.

But the FARC chief said the only prize the Marxist guerrillas wanted was "peace with social justice for Colombia... peace in the streets".

The deal, signed on Sept 26 after nearly four years of talks, was supposed to be ratified following an Oct 2 referendum but voters shot it down, leaving Colombia teetering between war and peace.

The result caught Nobel watchers off guard, with most experts predicting the referendum would scupper Colombia's chances.

Mr Santos said he was honoured by the award, which he dedicated to "all Colombians, especially the millions of victims of this conflict that we have suffered for more than 50 years".

In remarks to the Nobel Foundation, he also said an end to the conflict was "very, very close" and that the award was "a great stimulus" in the quest for peace.

"The message is that we have to persevere and reach the end of this war. We are very, very close, we just need to push a bit further."

More than 260,000 people have been killed and 45,000 gone missing in the Colombian conflict which has involved leftist guerrilla groups, rightwing paramilitaries and drug gangs.

Under the terms of the deal, FARC was to relaunch as a political party, but the agreement was struck down following a successful campaign by rightwing hardliners angered by the offer of impunity for the rebels.

Mr Santos, who has staked his legacy on making peace, has warned that Colombia is now in a "very dangerous limbo" while the Nobel committee said there was a "real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again".

FARC leaders have vowed they are committed to peace, but it is unclear whether they will be able to sell a new deal to the rank and file.

UN chief Ban Ki Moon said the Nobel prize came at "a critical moment" and proved Colombia had come "too far (along the path to peace) to turn back".

Colombia's former leader Alvaro Uribe, who led opposition to the accord, also congratulated Santos, saying he hoped the award encourages "changes" to the deal.

Nobel watchers had initially tipped both Mr Santos and Mr Jimenez as likely winners, and Ms Ingrid Betancourt, who was held by FARC guerrillas for six years in the jungle, said the rebel leader should have shared the prize.

Speaking to France's iTele channel, she said she was "very, very happy" the award went to Mr Santos, and it showed "there was no turning back from peace".

Asked if she thought FARC should also have been honoured, she answered: "Yes... it's very hard for me to say yes... but I think so."

But some experts said it was not surprising the committee had chosen to recognise only Mr Santos.

"A prize to FARC would have probably been poorly received by those who are sceptical about the peace agreement, and this therefore reduces the risk of the prize having a negative impact," said Mr Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of Oslo's Peace Research Institute.

The Nobel committee has in the past honoured former enemies for peace processes at fragile stages, including those in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

The peace prize is the fourth Nobel to be announced this week and comes after the awards for medicine, physics and chemistry.

The economics prize will be announced on Monday, and the 2016 Nobel season will end on Thursday with the literature prize.

The peace prize is a gold medal, a diploma and a cheque for 8 million Swedish kronor, which will be presented at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10.