MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to spend some time now in Colombia. A peace agreement there signed last month was supposed to end the country's half-century-old guerrilla war. But then Colombian voters narrowly rejected the deal in a binding referendum that's put the peace process in jeopardy. It's also left the Marxist rebel army known as the FARC in a state of limbo. Reporter John Otis has the story.
JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: I'm approaching a FARC camp in an area known as the Yari Savannah in southern Colombia. But instead of guarding the perimeter, the guerrillas are playing soccer on a muddy field. Rebels watching the game wear colorful T-shirts rather than camouflage. No one seems to be carrying a gun.
HILDA RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: Inside the camp, Hilda Ramirez, a 30-year-old FARC radio operator, says she hasn't fired her rifle in about five years.
RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: This respite from the war, she explains, is the result of Colombia's peace process. A bilateral cease-fire is now in place. Last year, the rebels halted military training and recruitment. The next step is for the guerrillas to turn over their weapons to U.N. inspectors. After that, they plan to return to civilian life and form a left-wing political party. Many FARC members like Jairo Marin - a mid-level commander whose guerrilla wife was killed in the fighting - were looking forward to hanging up their rifles.
JAIRO MARIN: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: "We thought it was a given that the referendum would pass and that we would start demobilizing," says Marin, who joined the FARC 31 years ago. But now everything's on hold because in the October 2 referendum, the peace accord was rejected by a slim margin. Conservative politicians who campaigned against it want harsher penalties for rebels accused of war crimes, including a ban on holding political office. Carlos Antonio Lozada is a member of the FARC's ruling secretariat who helped negotiate the peace accord.
CARLOS ANTONIO LOZADA: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: Lozada tells me the FARC would accept tweaks, but not wholesale changes to the agreement. However, it took four years to negotiate. Rewriting the peace accord could take many months. That means the 6,000 FARC guerrillas located at this and other FARC camps throughout Colombia are stuck. They're not at war, but they've been prevented from demobilizing, which would help guarantee peace.
Some analysts fear that frustrated rebels could end up joining drug trafficking gangs or a smaller guerrilla group known as the ELN. Then there's the cease-fire. President Juan Manuel Santos, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, has extended it until the end of the year. But cease-fires are delicate and can be broken by chance encounters between army troops and guerrillas. Marin, the 31-year FARC veteran, says the rebels are prepared for the worst.
MARIN: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: "If the peace process collapses, we will have to go back to armed struggle," he says. But Lozada, the FARC negotiator, is confident a deal to save the peace process will emerge. And in the course of an hour-long interview, he insists several times that the FARC has fired its last shot.
LOZADA: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: "There's no going back," he says. "The war in Colombia is over." For NPR News, I'm John Otis in the Yari Savannah, Colombia.
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