BOGOTA - Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels on Wednesday will begin surrendering their weapons to the United Nations now that almost 7,000 of them have reached designated demobilization zones around the country, the government and insurgent group said.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace agreement with the government late last year to put an end to Latin America's longest-running armed conflict, which killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.
"It's the start of the process of disarmament, which involves the registration of weapons, the destruction of unstable weapons and the storage of side arms," Colombia's High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo told reporters on Tuesday.
The rebels are expected to have turned in all their arms by June, President Juan Manuel Santos has said. Some members of the FARC and the United Nations had raised the possibility of delaying the disarmament process while logistical problems are resolved.
Over the past few weeks, FARC rebels crisscrossed Colombia on foot and by boat from their jungle and mountain camps to 26 zones monitored by U.N. personnel.
"Despite obvious delays in the logistical adaptation of the zones ... we will carry out ... the registration of weapons in all the camps," FARC leader Ivan Marquez told a news conference.
Under the terms of the peace accord, the FARC, which began as a peasant uprising 52 years ago, is to form a political movement in the South American nation.
The accord has been heavily criticized by many, and was initially rejected in a referendum, as being too lenient on the rebels who will be spared jail time.