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Colombian rebels have finally agreed to a disarmament plan

Peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels now seem certain to produce a final accord ending half a century of conflict.

by Joe Parkin Daniels
Aug 5 2016, 8:31pm

Imagen por William Fernando Vergara/AP Images

Colombia's peace process has taken another leap forward with the announcement of how and when the rebels should hand over their weapons and demobilize, once a final deal is signed.

Negotiators from the government and the world's oldest guerrilla army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, announced the details of the accord, including the specifics of the supervisory role to be taken by the United Nations, this Friday.

"Today we have taken a new step on the road towards the end of the conflict," the government's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said in a statement from Havana, where the talks are based. "We invite Colombians to build a new country."

The talks, which began in November 2012, now seem almost certain to produce a final accord ending a 52-year conflict that has been a key element of the wider violence that has left 220,000 dead and over 6 million displaced.

The June ceasefire agreement said that the estimated 7,000 FARC combatants will have just five days after the final accord is signed in order to move into to 23 "temporary hamlet zones for normalization." These are projected to cover an area of about 150 square miles.

Unarmed UN officials are charged with supervising these "hamlet zones" as well as the subsequent search and destroy operations in search of landmines and explosives.

Friday's accord says that civilians living in the regions will be permitted to remain, though not to enter the camps housing the rebels. The military will also need permission before entering.

Once the process is complete, the weapons are supposed to be melted down and turned into three monuments: one in Colombia, one in Cuba, and one in New York, where the UN is based.

Once weapons are turned over, the FARC can fulfill the rest of the demobilization process that, the agreement states, should be completed within six months. After that, the former rebels can transform themselves into a legal political movement that can run for elected office.

Previous deals within the peace process have said that FARC fighters will receive an amnesty for rebellion, but that those found guilty of human rights abuses will be subject to a special tribunal. These courts will have the power to hand down sentences of up to eight years of "restricted liberty," though not in conventional jails. Critics of the peace process say this is too light, and allege that some who committed atrocities will evade punishment altogether.

Related: Digging up Bodies: Colombia Is Searching for Thousands of Unnamed Dead

The logistics of the weapons' handover and demobilization proved to be a particular sticking points in the talks thanks to the political violence that greeted the FARC's last attempted move into politics. State-aligned paramilitaries wiped out the FARC-based Patriotic Union party within nine years of its foundation in 1985.

With the mechanisms for demobilization and entering politics now defined, little is left for negotiators to iron out.

Not that the path to peace is now guaranteed. The final deal must be ratified in a referendum, and a recent poll by Datexco found that 34 percent of those surveyed said they would vote against the deal, while 29 percent said they would vote in favor.

Hardline former president Álvaro Uribe is leading the charge against peace on the grounds that it will allow the rebels to get away with unpardonable crimes.

"Hatred does not die with impunity," he said while launching the 'No' campaign last week. "More violence will emerge."

The yes vote campaign will be lead by President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his political reputation on a peace deal.

"Colombians must understand that with the signing of these accords, the FARC will disappear as an armed group," he said in a statement on Thursday

Related: Colombia's 50-year war ends with historic ceasefire between rebels and government

Follow Joe Parkin Daniels on Twitter: @joeparkdan

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