War-weary Colombians hope for peace

2015-09-24 12:17
Farc guerrillas stop a vehicle. (Luis Robayo, AFP)

Farc guerrillas stop a vehicle. (Luis Robayo, AFP)

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Havana - President Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of Colombia's largest rebel group have vowed to end Latin America's longest-running armed conflict in the coming months after reaching a breakthrough in talks that put the country closer to peace that it has been in half a century.

Speaking in Havana, where talks between the sides had been dragging on for years, Santos announced that government and rebel negotiators, prodded by Pope Francis to not let a historic opportunity for peace slip away, had set a six-month deadline to sign a final agreement. After that, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would demobilise within 60 days.

"We are on different sides but now we advance in the same direction, in the most noble direction a society can take, which is toward peace," said Santos, minutes before a forced, cold-faced handshake with the military commander of the Farc guerrillas, known by his alias Timochenko.

The US government lauded the breakthrough, with secretary of state John Kerry saying that "peace is now ever closer for the Colombian people and millions of conflict victims."

Face penalties

In a joint statement, Santos and the Farc rebels said they had overcome the last significant obstacle to a peace deal by settling on a formula to punish human rights abuses committed during about 50 years of bloody, drug-fueled fighting. The formula is designed to demand accountability from belligerents while insulating a deal against possible legal challenges from victims.

Under the terms reached, rebels that confess abuses to special peace tribunals, compensate victims and promise not to take up arms again will receive from five to a maximum of eight years of labor under unspecified conditions of confinement but not prisons. War crimes committed by Colombia's military will also be judged by the tribunals and combatants caught lying will face penalties of up to 20 years in jail.

While a final accord may be within reach, the huge challenges of implementing it are just beginning. Negotiators must still come up with a mechanism for rebels to demobilise and then the government needs to come up with additional money to spread the benefits of peace in parts of Colombia's vast, jungled countryside that have known little else than war.

Read more on:    farc  |  colombia  |  security

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