'Last chance' Santos tells rebels unwilling to disarm under peace deal

The statement by the Armando Rios First Front, a 200-strong rebel unitcomes nearly two weeks after FARC leaders and the government announced a ceasefire deal. Photograph:( Getty )

Reuters Cachicamo, Colombia Jul 07, 2016, 04.55 AM (IST)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had strong words on Wednesday for a unit of Colombia's FARC rebel group that says it will not lay down arms or demobilise under a potential peace deal with the government.

The statement by the Armando Rios First Front, a 200-strong rebel unit in the Southeastern jungle province of Guaviare, comes nearly two weeks after leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government announced a ceasefire deal at their more than three-year-old peace talks. It is the first public sign of opposition to an accord from within the rebel ranks.

"Someone told me recently that the First Front of the FARC has doubts - or some people from the First Front of the FARC have doubts about whether they welcome this peace process or not. Some were going to continue and were not going to welcome the peace process. Allow me to take advantage of being here, from El Retorno of Guaviare, to deliver a message to these people from the First Front who have doubts - have no doubt, welcome this process because it will be your last chance," Santos said during a speech in the southeastern department fo El Guaviare.

The unit, which famously held ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors hostage, said the deals being reached at the talks will not solve the social and economic problems which first motivated rebels to take up arms more than five decades ago.

But Santos expressed little patience for rhetoric.

"And all the power of our forces will come down on those who remain outside of this process. The thousands and thousands of soldiers that we have throughout the country, who are now caring for our pipelines - we will gather them to pursue those remaining outside, that is anyone who has some doubt better set it aside and embrace (the process) because it is the last chance that you will have to change your life, because any other way will end, I assure you, in a grave or in prison," he said.

Santos has said the peace talks, aimed at ending a conflict which has killed more than 220,000 and displaced millions, may conclude as early as this month. Any deal will be put to Colombians for approval in a plebiscite vote.