Colombia, FARC rebels reach final peace deal to end half-century of bloodshed

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(REUTERS) Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC rebels reached a final peace deal on Wednesday to end a five-decade war which once took the resource-rich country to the brink of collapse.

Under the historic agreement to end one of the world’s longest conflicts, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will lay down arms and reintegrate into civilian life.

More than 220,000 people were killed in the conflict, tens of thousands disappeared and millions fled their homes because of the violence.

A FARC rebel looks at a photo of legendary guerrilla leader Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in a temporary rebel headquarters in San Vicente del Caguan, October 1999. REUTERS/Jose Gomez

The accord, which was reached after almost four years of talks in Cuba, sparked celebrations in parks and bars in the Colombian capital, Bogota.

It will now go to a plebiscite vote on Oct. 2.

“Today I can say – from the bottom of my heart – that I have fulfilled the mandate that you gave me,” said President Juan Manuel Santos, 65, who was re-elected in 2014 on the promise of a peace deal.

“Colombians: the decision is in your hands. Never before have our citizens had within their reach the key to their future,” he said in a televised address.

Most opinion polls suggest Colombians will back the deal but Santos, who has staked his legacy on peace, will face fierce opposition from powerful sectors of the country who believe the only solution is to finish the FARC militarily.

The deal is opposed by two former Colombian presidents, including popular right-wing hardliner Alvaro Uribe.

In Bogota, several hundred people gathered around a giant screen in the rain to listen to the announcement, waving Colombian flags and banners.

 People celebrate after Colombia’s government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels reached a final peace deal on Wednesday to end a five-decade war, in Bogota, Colombia, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

“I’m so happy. It was time to end the war,” said Margarita Nieto, a 28-year-old accountant. “I know what is coming will be hard, but together we can cope.”

Others are more sceptical about the terms of the agreement, especially the participation of FARC rebels in politics and the fact that they will not serve jail time for crimes committed during the war.

“The future worries me,” said Susana Antequeria, 30, as she milled around the screen. “But I’ll put up with it for peace.”

Colombia’s FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez (L) and Colombia’s lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle (R) shake hands while Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez looks on, after signing a final peace deal in Havana, Cuba, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Under the deal, the FARC will have non-voting representation in Congress until 2018 and can participate in elections.

From then on, the 7,000 former rebels will have to win votes like any other political party, Santos said.

The final text of the deal will be sent to Colombia’s Congress on Thursday and will be available on the internet and social media, he said.

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during a Presidential address in Bogota, Colombia, August 24, 2016. Colombian Presidency /Handout via Reuters

“We have won the most beautiful of all battles” lead FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez said following the announcement in Havana on Wednesday. “The war with arms is over, now begins the debate of ideas.”

The two sides had signed a ceasefire in late June.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Santos on Wednesday to congratulate him on the deal, the White House said.

A Colombian soldier is carried by a Black Hawk helicopter in Puerto Siare, with bodies of FARC rebels killed in combat, August 2001. REUTERS/Jose Gomez

 

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