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Colombia Government, FARC Rebels to Sign Peace Accord in September

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FILE - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos carries to Congress the peace deal with rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, in Bogota, Aug. 25, 2016.

FILE - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos carries to Congress the peace deal with rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, in Bogota, Aug. 25, 2016.

Colombia's government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — FARC — are scheduled to officially sign a deal to end half a century of war late next month, officials said Saturday.

Authorities did not say who would be in attendance at the official signing.

“The solemn date of the signing will be between September 20 and 26, depending on the schedules and the dignitaries who will be in attendance,” Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said.

President Juan Manuel Santos said U.N. headquarters in Bogota or Cuba is being considered as the meeting’s venue.

Ahead of the final signing, at least 200 FARC delegates are expected to attend a final gathering of FARC leaders convening on Sept. 13-19 in San Vicente del Caguan - an area where rebels have long held control.

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, Aug. 24, 2016

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, Aug. 24, 2016

The announcement of a deal after four years of talks opened the possibility for Colombians to put behind them bloodshed that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and driven more than 5 million people from their homes.

U.S. President Barack Obama recently called Colombian President Santos to congratulate him on the peace deal. The White House said, "The president recognized this historic day as a critical juncture in what will be a long process to fully implement a just and lasting peace agreement."

Commitment to changes

The accord commits Colombia's government to carrying out aggressive land reform, overhauling its anti-narcotics strategy and greatly expanding state administration of traditionally neglected rural areas of the country.

“Given the historical significance of this event, the people of Colombia and the world must learn first-hand about the conference’s development and decisions,” a FARC statement said.

The fate of the FARC-government peace accord will then be in the voters’ hands. The government's accord with FARC still must be ratified in a referendum scheduled for Oct. 2, the guerrilla group also said on Saturday.

FILE - Orlando, a rebel fighter for the 36th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, hangs a banner featuring the late rebel leader Alfonso Cano with a message that reads in Spanish: "Our dream is peace with social justice."

FILE - Orlando, a rebel fighter for the 36th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, hangs a banner featuring the late rebel leader Alfonso Cano with a message that reads in Spanish: "Our dream is peace with social justice."

Opponents of President Santos and some human rights groups have criticized a key part of the deal that says guerrillas who confess their crimes won't spend any time in prison and will instead be allowed to serve out reduced sentences of no more than eight years by helping rebuild communities hit by the conflict.

The rebel army was forced to the negotiating table after a decade of heavy battlefield losses that saw a succession of top rebel commanders killed by the U.S.-backed military and its ranks thinned by half to the current 7,000 fighters.

Although polls indicate Colombians dislike the rebel group, analysts expect the pact to be approved easily.

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