March 11, 2015 / 6:33 PM / 3 years ago

Colombia president's bombing halt on rebels slammed by inspector general

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The decision by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend the bombing of Marxist FARC rebel bases came under fire from the country’s powerful inspector general who accused him of paralyzing the armed forces while guerrillas prey on civilian targets.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez, who has long opposed Santos’ approach to ending a 50-year war with the FARC, said the month-long halting of aerial attacks announced on Tuesday was a de-facto bilateral cease-fire Santos said he would never allow.

“This announcement means the paralysis of the armed forces against the FARC while that group continues impacting the civilian population with a range of crimes,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It’s evident the government has decided to accept the FARC’s imposition of a bilateral ceasefire before the signing of an agreement for the end of the conflict,” he added.

Ordonez heads the judicial body that holds public servants to account and ensures the government acts in accordance with the constitution, a role that empowers him to remove any public official from office except the president.

In December 2013, he ousted the leftist mayor of Bogota from his post, a decision later reversed by a local tribunal.

In his statement on the bombing halt, Ordonez said Santos needed to make clearer whether he was also ordering a halt to on-the-ground offensives. Santos merely said on Tuesday that troops would respond if the FARC engage them in combat or threaten civilians.

Santos said the halt on air raids aims to hasten a de-escalation of combat while two-year-old peace talks in Havana with the FARC progress.

The government’s chief peace talks representative, Humberto de la Calle, on Wednesday rejected the idea that the halt in bombings was tantamount to a bilateral cease-fire.

“We are not going to put the brakes on the work of the armed forces,” he told reporters.

Santos has also said the bombing halt could be extended beyond a month if the FARC continues to hold to the cease-fire it declared on Dec. 18.

The FARC’s unilateral cease-fire, coupled with its pledge last week to help the government remove rebels landmines, has added momentum to the peace process.

Santos’ decision looks likely to elicit the wrath of his ally-turned-foe, ex-President Alvaro Uribe, who accuses him of capitulating to terrorists in regular Twitter missives.

The military onslaught Uribe oversaw as president from 2002 to 2010 decimated the FARC’s ranks.

Editing by W Simon

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