UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the U.N. mission in Colombia said Wednesday it was impossible to meet the first benchmark in the cease-fire process following the historic peace deal between the government and rebels — and the second deadline won't be met either.
But Jean Arnault told the Security Council that he hopes "the laying down of arms" by rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will begin "in the next few weeks."
He said the Jan. 1 deadline for FARC combatants to concentrate in demobilization areas wasn't met because of logistical problems and other reasons. It also "will not be possible to meet the Jan. 30 deadline for the destruction of unstable ammunition spread in caches throughout the country," he said.
Despite these setbacks, Arnault said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders have expressed their determination "to do everything possible to meet the original goal of the comprehensive laydown of weapons by early June."
Almost a year ago the Colombian government asked the United Nations to monitor a then hoped-for cease-fire and disarmament process. In September, the Security Council authorized a mission made up of 450 observers and a number of civilians to oversee the laying down of arms by the FARC and other aspects of the agreement.
The original peace deal to end more than 50 years of war that caused more than 220,000 deaths and displaced nearly 6 million people was narrowly defeated in a referendum on Oct. 2. A revised deal was approved by Colombia's Congress on Nov. 30 and an amnesty law covering most offenses committed by FARC fighters — a key step in implementing the peace deal — was adopted Dec. 28.
In anticipation of the start of the disarmament process, Arnault said the U.N. is distributing equipment to store, mark and monitor FARC weapons.
But he cited logistical difficulties and other problems in setting up some of the 26 camps.
"To date, construction has begun in one-third of the zones, preparations are ongoing in another third, while the remainder continues to face difficulties," Arnault said.
Colombia's U.N. ambassador, Maria Mejia, told reporters that many areas where camps are to be located have "difficult access, without roads for communication, without drinking water, without energy, and so all that has made the process a bit more difficult."
Arnault said he visited one zone in southern Colombia last week with Santos and the president gave instructions to overcome the obstacles urgently so all camps are ready at the earliest possible time.
"It will hopefully allow the arms laydown process to begin in the next few weeks," Arnault said.
Associated Press writer Claudia Torrens contributed to this report.