Photo par Fernando Vergara/AP Images
The Colombian government and the country's largest rebel group have announced that they have reached a final peace deal to end their half-century-long war.The conflict began in 1964 when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, became one of the first in a wave of Marxist-inspired Latin American guerrilla armies. Today it is one of the very few still active, though the group is now also associated with criminal activities such as drug trafficking and systematic extortion.
"We have reached a final, complete, and definitive agreement," read a joint statement signed by both sides and released on Wednesday evening in Havana, Cuba, where the negotiations have been based. "We do not want one more victim in Colombia."The government's negotiating team had sparked a frenzy of anticipation from Tuesday by announcing "the day is coming," on its Twitter account. The message was accompanied by a photo featuring smiling negotiators from both sides.
Tweet via @ComisionadoPazThe final deal comes two months after negotiators announced they had sealed a definitive ceasefire. This came after a number of other agreements on such contentious issues as land access for poor farmers, how to treat war criminals, and the mechanisms for the FARC's transformation into a political party.Before reading and then signing the statement announcing the last agreement of all, against a backdrop of a blue banner featuring a white dove and the words Peace Talks, the top negotiators sang the Colombian national anthem alongside representatives of Cuba and Norway, who have acted as guarantors of the process.Though a formal signing ceremony is not expected to take place for at least a few weeks more — and where this will take place has reportedly yet to be defined — Wednesday's announcement in Havana opens the way for preparations to begin for a plebiscite on the deal.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his political reputation on the peace process, has promised to put the peace agreements he negotiated to the people.Some observers are already suggesting that this might have been a political miscalculation comparable to British Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to call the Brexit referendum that ended up rejecting his position in favor of remaining in the European Union.While the international community has showered praise on the negotiations that appear on the point of ending a conflict estimated to have killed 220,000 and displaced nearly 7 million, many in Colombia don't like the idea of giving anything away to the FARC. The latest polls show that a "no" vote could win."Of course this agreement we have reached is not a perfect agreement, but I am sure that it is the best accord that was possible," chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said at the ceremony in Havana. "The Colombian people will decide if we are right."In the mean time, the signing of the final deal is supposed to lead to the rapid demobilization of the estimated 7,000 FARC fighters who are supposed to congregate in special "hamlet zones" within five days and hand over their weapons within 175.Unarmed UN officials have been charged with supervising the zones, as well as subsequent operations to search for and destroy landmines and explosives.Joe Parkin Daniels Contributed to this report.
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