Police seize arms from the FARC and the criminal band 'Pijarvey', in February 2013, before the peace negotiations. Photo by: Policía Nacional de los colombianos / Flickr
This article forms part of the section on the Negotiating Timeline: From Start to Finish, from the project “Peacemaking in Colombia: Lessons from the negotiators”, a collaboration between DemocraciaAbierta and the IFIT.
This was a very complex issue, and the first time that the subject of 'laying down of arms' was included in the peace processes with the FARC. First, the negotiators had to agree on what was meant by the term ‘laying down of arms'. This took a lot of work and effort, as its full meaning was not clear in the time between the exploratory and the open phase. Therefore, the parties had to establish a working concept for the negotiation phase. This was largely because those who had participated in the exploratory phase were not the same as those involved in the negotiation phase, and so there were different versions of what they wanted to achieve through the definition of the term ‘laying down arms’, associated with the bilateral ceasefire. During the construction phase of the bilateral ceasefire proposal and the laying down of arms, these two concepts were given a whole new meaning. By developing a new conceptualization, there were implications regarding the technical verification of both the bilateral ceasefire and the laying down of arms. This was something that was associated with agenda item 6.
The Negotiations and Challenges
There were several difficult moments, a particular one being the murder of 11 soldiers in Buenos Aires, a region in Colombia. At the time, the negotiators had just started the process, and those who were involved were active duty military personnel, along with FARC guerrillas, so it was a challenging time in terms of cooperation. However, the parties accepted the principle that the conflict was in Colombia and that they were in Havana to negotiate. They agreed to negotiate as if there was no conflict, and to fight as if there was no negotiation.
Separately, one of the most complex issues was to determine the final destination for the FARC weapons. This was a complicated and time-consuming issue, because while the government assumed it would destroy these weapons, the FARC did not agree. It was therefore difficult to reach a decision on what was physically going to happen with the arms that they would lay down. To resolve this issue, a member of the Swiss government provided technical advice and helped the negotiators to find solutions.
If dealing with 94 'coves' takes so long, how long will it take us to process 900?
The topic of the ceasefire and the laying down of weapons did not need to be discussed in great detail at this stage. The coalition in favour of 'No' never had any objection to the issue of ceasefire and the abandonment of arms. In the renegotiation, some new issues were incorporated, but in general, it was one of the topics less affected by the renegotiation. However, they had objections with respect to the reincorporation agreement, and some of them were crucial to wining the plebiscite. One clear example was the amount of money they would get if they effectively finished their reincorporation program.
Implementation and Challenges
A key challenge relating to the resolution of the peace process is the extraction of 'coves', which are hidden deposits of weapons. This question has been considered within the process of laying down arms, but given the magnitude and the number of coves (more than 900), Colombia is still in the process of classification, destruction and registration of this weaponry. This implies a huge challenge because of the political constraints. Though the United Nations were responsible for this up until 1 September, the extraction and destruction of these coves was then put in the hands of the national government. As of 7 July, the UN, together with the military and the FARC took care of 94 of the 900 coves registered. The slow pace of extraction is naturally a concern. The reasonable question was asked, if it took so long to deal with 94 coves, how long will it take to process 900?
Another important question of implementation is what comes after the ceasefire, particularly in guaranteeing the security of the FARC. This is a major risk because they will not have their weapons, and the concept of security mechanisms change according to the different areas within the country. Therefore, we must analyse very closely the coordination between FARC, the military, and the police to see how they will guarantee the safety of the guerrillas whilst they are in their zones.