EDITED BY KALAHAN DENG
Negotiators seeking to end the five-decades-old bloody insurgency in Colombia said Wednesday they had reached a final peace deal in one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
For nearly four years, representatives from the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group have struggled to reach a deal that would not only end the fighting but also address issues of land reform, curtailment of the drug trade, repatriation of victims’ families and trials for those suspected of human rights abuses.
A majority of Colombians must still approve the landmark deal in a referendum set for October 2.
Provisions that allow FARC leaders who confess their crimes to avoid prison may make the deal a bitter pill to swallow for many Colombians who think the rebels are escaping justice for decades of murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama called Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to congratulate him on the deal and pledge continued support to his government. The United States has given Colombia billions of dollars in aid to combat drug trafficking and terrorism, which helped kill top FARC commanders and led to scores of foot soldiers abandoning the group.
Negotiations in Cuba broke down several times and at points exposed the hatred festering between the government and rebels.
“The best way to end the war is sitting down to discuss the peace,” said Colombia’s chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle. “The war is over.”
FARC commander Luciano Marín Arango, who is known by his alias Iván Márquez, said, “I think we have won the most beautiful battle: the peace of Colombia.”
Inspired by the Cuban revolution, the Marxist guerrilla force FARC, the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
, had originally sought to redistribute wealth at the point of a gun in the South American country.
But in recent years critics allege the FARC’s estimated 7,000 soldiers had become a narco-terrorist force, reaping millions of dollars from cocaine shipments to the United States.
The war between the group and Colombian government has left an estimated 220,000 dead. About 5 million people have been displaced, according to some estimates.
Under the agreement, FARC rank-and-file soldiers will lay down their heavy weapons, leave jungle camps and slowly reincorporate into Colombian society with the help of government training programs.
The leaders of FARC have said they now intend to enter politics. The Colombian President said Wednesday that as part of the peace plan FARC will be given 10 seats in Colombia’s Congress until 2026.
A FARC tweet sent Wednesday apparently showed the first effort to begin to redefine the rebel group. A FARC account posted a photo of a guerrilla couple chatting as the armed male fighter touches the female’s leg flirtatiously.
“You… Me… Fighting foreign domination and creating the New Colombia… Think about it,” the tweet read.