BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s government on Thursday suspended further visits to the country by Marxist FARC negotiators, saying they violated the terms under which they were allowed to return from Havana to explain agreements reached at peace talks to their fighters.
Three members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s, or FARC, negotiating team had been given permission to travel from Cuba, where talks have been held since late 2012, to a rural area in northern La Guajira province to provide details of accords.
Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said President Juan Manuel Santos had suspended any further visits and asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to help the FARC representatives return to Cuba immediately.
It was the fifth time FARC commanders had traveled to Colombia to meet fighters in their encampments in visits meant to pave the way for rebel disarmament and implementation of a peace agreement.
The five-decade war has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.
The visit by guerrilla leaders Ivan Marquez, Jesus Santrich and Joaquin Gomez upset Santos because they met with local residents and participated in public events with armed fighters despite restrictions on such activities.
“On instruction of the president, pedagogical visits by FARC delegates to their encampments to explain the accords are suspended,” de la Calle said in a televised statement. “A fundamental rule of the agreement was that they do not make politics with arms and so this is an unacceptable violation.”
Images of the three rebels appeared on Twitter surrounded by locals and FARC combatants wearing uniform and carrying weapons.
The trip was meant to be low-key and was not previously announced by the government. Santos had ordered that armed forces cease operations in the area.
Opposition leaders including former President Alvaro Uribe harshly criticized the visit and questioned how the “terrorists” would be permitted to visit areas they had victimized and without a military presence.
FARC is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.
The insurgent group, which formed in 1964 to fight rural inequality, has said it will enter politics and seek alliances with other parties once it signs a peace deal.
Negotiators have reached partial agreements on land reform, guerrilla participation in politics, transitional justice, efforts to find missing persons and remove land mines, and an end to illegal drug trafficking.
A U.N. mission will supervise rebel disarmament once an accord is signed.
Reporting by Helen Murphy; Editing by Peter Cooney