Colombia, FARC rebels reach peace deal, ending 50-year conflict

After more than 50 years of armed conflict, Colombia and the FARC rebel group Wednesday announced they have reached a final peace accord.

"We have reached a final, integral and definitive agreement" to end the conflict and build a stable, lasting peace, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said in a joint statement.

"The end of the armed conflict will mean, first and foremost, the end of enormous suffering that the conflict has caused," the statement read. "Second, the end of the conflict will entail the opening of a new chapter of our history."

Colombia's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, put it more succinctly.

"The war is over," he said.

The announcement comes after nearly four years of negotiations in Havana, including a marathon weeklong session that led to the final deal.

The conflict has calmed dramatically since talks began and particularly in the last year. The two sides signed a ceasefire in June.

The peace deal includes rural reforms, joint action against drug trafficking, political participation of demobilized guerrillas and the creation of a system of transitional justice.

De la Calle and FARC negotiator Luciano Arango, known by his nom de guerre Ivan Marquez, signed the deal in Havana in a preliminary ceremony presided over by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

The official signing by Santos and FARC Commander Rodrigo Londono, also known as Timochenko, will take place in a ceremony in September, possibly in Colombia, according to government sources.

The deal will then be subjected to a national referendum, now planned for early October. The latest polls show public opinion split between supporters and opponents.

US President Barack Obama called Santos with congratulations.

A White House statement said Obama viewed the deal as "a critical juncture in what will be a long process to fully implement a just and lasting peace agreement."

The two presidents also agreed to maintain close collaboration and to continue joint efforts to combat organized crime and narcotics trafficking.

A spokesman for UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon also congratulated Santos, Londono and their negotiating teamsfor their hard work and patience.

"Now that the negotiations have concluded, an equally determined and exemplary effort will be required to implement the agreements," the spokesman said.

Colombia has been riven by internal conflict since the 1960s, as FARC and other left-wing rebels have battled military, police and right-wing paramilitaries.

More than 220,000 lives have been lost, and millions forced to flee parts of the country consumed by war. The government counts more than 7.6 million Colombians as direct and indirect victims of the conflict, and more landmine victims than any country but Afghanistan.

The FARC is the largest and oldest guerrilla organization in Latin America. Born out of political struggles between liberals and conservatives in the 1950s, the group came to life in the 1960s as an armed faction of Colombia's Communist Party, and took up violence as a response to inequality in land rights.

An earlier attempt to move into politics in 1984 ended in bloodshed when right-wing paramilitaries killed thousands of members of its Patriotic Union Party. At the high point of its power, from 1998-2002, it tried again with peace talks with the government, and secured a demilitarized zone the size of Switzerland.

Since 2002 under pressure from Colombia's military its territory has shrunken, but the group still counts more than 8,000 men and women armed fighters.

The FARC long used drug trafficking, illegal mining and kidnapping as sources of revenue. One of their most prominent captives was former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was held for six years before being released in 2008.

Last update: Thu, 25/08/2016 - 12:47

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