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It’s official: Colombia peace talks conclude half a century of war

President Santos announces referendum to validate accord with FARC rebels on October 2

Proceso de paz de Colombia
Iván Márquez and De la Calle shake hands in front of Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez. AFP

After more than half-a-century of conflict that has left 220,000 people dead and millions displaced or forced into exile, Colombia is now officially at peace. On Wednesday afternoon, the government’s chief negotiator formally announced that after four years of negotiations with the leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the talks were over and all that remained was to ink the final accord and put it to a referendum on October 2.

“Today we have reached our goal. The signing of the final accord with the guerrillas of the FARC is the end of the armed conflict. The best way to win the war was for us all to sit down and talk about peace,” said Humberto de la Calle, who headed the government’s negotiating team.

His face showing signs of exhaustion after marathon sessions during the last weeks, De la Calle said that while the deal was not perfect, it was “the best accord that could be reached.”

Nobody has considered what will happen if Colombians then reject the deal in the October 2 referendum

“The war of weapons is over and now the debate of ideas begins,” added his FARC counterpart, Iván Márquez, a former member of Congress who took up arms after many other leftist Colombian politicians were assassinated by right-wing groups in the 1980s.

Colombia has been in conflict since a rural uprising began in the 1960s. It has included a number of leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug cartels.

Human rights groups say atrocities have been committed by all sides, and an estimated five million people displaced. Many families are still searching for missing loved ones.

The approaching end of talks to conclude the last battle from the Cold War era was announced via Twitter on Tuesday night. “The day is coming,” read a tweet sent from the respective accounts of the Colombian government’s High Commissioner for Peace and the FARC. The text was accompanied by a photograph of both teams smiling.

But after this initial burst of hope, both sides immediately took a more cautious approach, pointing out that some details still needed to be ironed out, although they would in no way derail the agreement.

After the formal announcement – made in Havana around 6pm local time – that the talks had successfully concluded, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos gave a televised speech to the nation, announcing that a referendum on the peace deal would be held on October 2. “Today begins the end of so much suffering, pain and the tragedy of war,” he said.

Santos will be campaigning for the accord’s approval. But former president Álvaro Uribe is working hard to overturn the deal. He and other critics say it is too favorable to FARC leaders, whose guerrilla war tactics included kidnapping, drug trafficking and killings. Opinion polls have yielded mixed results on whether Colombians are likely to approve the peace deal.

Colombia has been in conflict since a rural uprising began in the 1960s. It has included a number of leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug cartels

If approved at the ballot box, the peace agreement would become law and the FARC would begin demobilizing its 7,000 fighters at designated camps and “protected zones” with monitors from the United Nations. The rebel group — whose full name is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — would have 180 days to fully disarm under the terms of the agreement.

FARC commanders are planning to return to their remote camps in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, where they will hold a FARC “congress” to build support for the deal among rank-and-file rebels and prepare for disarmament and demobilization.

It will be four years to the day on Friday since the Colombian government signed the agreement with FARC guerrillas that would establish the basis for peace talks that have been held in Havana.

To close this painful and bloody chapter in Colombia’s history, and before a referendum can be held, the final document needs to be signed. Santos has said he intends for this to happen at a summit-like event in Colombia, to be attended by regional heads of state.

Nobody has considered what will happen if Colombians then reject the deal in the October 2 referendum. It is possible that Santos will change his mind and choose to wait until after the referendum to sign the deal. If one thing has characterized Colombia’s halting peace process it’s that deadlines have very rarely been met.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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