President Juan Manuel Santos extended until December 31 a bilateral ceasefire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to allow more time to revive a peace accord with the rebel group after a shock plebiscite defeat.
The extension came as Santos met with opposition leaders in an effort to find a solution to the political crisis caused by voters’ narrow rejection of a proposed peace deal on October 2. On Thursday, the government and opposition agreed to close the reception of proposals to amend the Final Accord with FARC and which will be presented to the negotiators in Havana. President Santos will travel to Cuba to officially present the proposed changes.
“I have made the decision to extend the bilateral cease fire until December 31,” Santos said in a televised address. “Let this be clear: This is not an ultimatum or a deadline, but I hope the entire process of obtaining a new agreement will be complete well before then.”
Since the ceasefire came into force on August 29, Colombia has registered its lowest levels of violence in the 52-year history of the conflict. The extension comes exactly a week after Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
After four years of talks in Havana, the Colombian government and FARC signed a historic peace accord in September in Cartagena in a ceremony attended by regional heads of state, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
But Colombia’s razor-thin rejection of the deal one week later—by 53,894 votes—has plunged the country into a political crisis and stoked fears that a prolonged impasse could lead to a new flare-up in a conflict that has killed 220,000 people and displaced over five million since the 1960s.
Demonstrators have since flooded Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar nearly every day to push for a peace agreement. Over 100 victims of the conflict have also been camping out in the plaza and refuse to move “until there is an agreement.”
The Colombian head of state in his televised address said the decision to push back the deadline was influenced by the student leaders who have organized mass rallies in the Colombian capital. “One of the students reminded me, that in the army and in the guerrilla ranks, there are young people waiting to see what happens, hoping that they don’t need to fire another shot. For that reason, and at the request of the students, I have taken the decision to extend the ceasefire,” said Santos.
On October 5, Santos met with ex-president and opposition leader Álvaro Uribe, who is trying to leverage the results of the plebiscite to make adjustments to deal. It was the first meeting between the two leaders since 2010.
Uribe, a vocal opponent of the peace accord with FARC and who campaigned for the “No” vote welcomed Santos’ ceasefire decision.
Santos, who has staked his legacy on reaching a peace deal, had previously said the military would maintain its ceasefire until midnight on October 31.