Military officials in western Colombia say that FARC guerrillas have violated a declared ceasefire just one day after making the announcement, pointing to a potential gap in the rebels' chain of command.
According to General Jorge Humberto Jerez, head of an army task force based in the southwestern province of Cauca, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) targeted soldiers there a day after the group's leadership announced a unilateral ceasefire in the country as part of a "goodwill" gesture as peace talks with the government got underway in Havana, Cuba November 19.
Jerez told Colombia's Radio La F.M. that two guerrillas in civilian clothing waved white handkerchiefs at military personnel in the municipality of Caloto on November 20, but when the soldiers approached they detonated several landmines in their path.
"Fortunately there were no injuries, but it has caused panic and fear among locals, especially among children, who do not dare to go to school because it is in the [neighboring] mountain village of San Luis Alto," said the general.
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While the guerrillas have yet to confirm the incident, and it remains unclear whether it was in fact a targeted FARC attack on the military, it is the first indication that the temporary rebel ceasefire may not hold.
The ceasefire amounts to a test of the strength of the group's command structure, as it puts the top FARC leadership in conflict with its forces on the ground. If a rogue element in the guerrilla group disobeys orders and launches an attack, as reportedly happened in Cauca, it could call into question the credibility of the FARC’s top negotiators to speak for their organization as a whole.
It also raises questions about whether the guerrillas will be able to completely demobilize their forces should peace talks end in success, or if splinter factions will remain active and potentially deepen their involvement in criminal activities like drug trafficking and kidnapping.