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Peace comes to Colombia

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Almost lost in all the hub-bub about the Canal re-opening, Brexit, and the U.S. elections, there is terrific news that our next door neighbours in Colombia  have been busy finalizing the peace process to end over 50 years of war there.

Colombia and FARC sign historic ceasefire deal

Rebels agree to lay down arms after more than 50 years of conflict that left 220,000 people dead and displaced millions.


The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have signed a ceasefire, which includes the armed group laying down their arms after more than 50 years of conflict.

Negotiators signed the ceasefire agreement on Thursday in the presence of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC commander Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londono at a ceremony in Havana.

The historic event was also attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the presidents of Cuba, Venezuela and Chile and the Norwegian foreign minister.

The agreement is a final step in peace negotiations which have been going on since 2012.

READ MORE: Colombia's challenging peace process with FARC

Colombia's decades-long civil war has left more than 220,000 people dead and driven millions from their homes.

"Colombia got used to living in conflict. We don't have even the slightest memories of what it means to live in peace," Santos said on Thursday in Havana. "Today a new chapter opens, one that brings back peace and gives our children the possibility of not reliving history."

Santos has said a final peace treaty could be signed next month.

"It is truly a historic agreement and it shows the two sides were able to reach a deal on the most sensitive points still standing in the very long peace negotiations, Al Jazeera's Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from Bogota, said.

The means of implementation of the final peace deal remains to be settled.

READ MORE - Colombia: FARC to remove child soldiers from ranks

The questions of disarmament and justice for victims make the road to peace and reconciliation a hard one.

The sides are discussing designating zones where the FARC's estimated 7,000 remaining fighters can gather for a UN-supervised demobilisation process.

The Colombian president wants a referendum to put the seal of popular approval on its peace effort. But it faces resistance from some political rivals.

To hold a plebiscite, it needs the country's constitutional judges to approve a law already passed in Congress.

Supporters of the peace process also fear that too many voters could simply stay home, threatening to leave the referendum below the participation threshold needed to be valid.


WATCH: Colombia reaches ceasefire agreement with FARC


Momentum had been building towards a breakthrough in negotiations after Santos said earlier this week that he hoped to deliver a peace accord in time to mark Colombia's declaration of independence from Spain on July 20.  But the agreement signed on Thursday went further than expected.

In addition to a framework for a ceasefire, both sides agreed on a demobilisation plan that will see rebels concentrate in rural areas under government protection and hand over weapons to UN monitors. The peace accord gives the disarmament process a six-month time limit. 

The deal also includes security guarantees for the FARC during its transition to a peaceful political party. A similar attempt in the 1980s led to thousands of rebels and their sympathisers being killed by paramilitaries and corrupt soldiers.

A peace deal won't immediately make Colombia a safer place. The cocaine trade remains a powerful magnet for criminal gangs operating throughout the country's remote valleys and jungles. And the National Liberation Army, a much smaller and more rebellious armed group, has not yet begun peace talks with the government. 

LISTENING POST: War and peace: Colombia's unreconciled narratives

A strong element within Colombia is opposed to a peace deal with FARC. They are led by popular former President Alvaro Uribe, who spearheaded the military offensive against the rebel group last decade.

"It damages the word 'peace' to accept that those responsible for crimes against humanity like kidnapping, car-bombing, recruitment of children and rape of girls don't go to jail for a single day and can be elected to public office," Uribe said on Thursday in reaction to the peace agreement.

But regional and international leaders were enthusiastic about the deal. 

"The peace process can't turn back," said Cuban President Raul Castro, whose country was one of the guarantors of the talks. 

In Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the "finish line is approaching and nearer now than it has ever been," but that "hard work remains to be done."


Edited by Keith Woolford
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The last armed conflict in Latin America is finally ending

By Kelly Chen, Natalie Gallón and Rafael Romo, CNN


Updated 9:59 PM ET, Mon September 26, 2016 

colombia farc peace talks romo asher segment_00030310
In Colombia, a decades-long fight comes to an end 03:08

Story highlights

  • Colombian rebel group signs deal to end over half a century of armed conflict
  • Deal still needs to be ratified by electorate in an October referendum

(CNN) A conflict that lasted over five decades. An estimated 220,000 people killed. Five million displaced. 

These staggering figures are now consigned to history as the Colombian government buries the hatchet with its longtime nemesis, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group, better known by its Spanish acronym, FARC. 
The pen used to sign the treaty is made from a bullet used in combat.
The pen used to sign the treaty is made from a bullet used in combat.
In a symbolic gesture, the pens used to sign the historic peace deal, years in the making, have been made from recycled bullets once used in the conflict. An inscription on the side of the pens reads: "Bullets wrote our past. Education, our future."
The two sides, joined by leaders from the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay, Cuba and the United Nations, came together on Monday in the coastal colonial city of Cartagena to sign the accord.
"Today, Colombians are bidding farewell to decades of flames, and sending up a bright flare of hope that illuminates the entire world," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the signing ceremony. 
The rebels voted unanimously to approve a deal that was finalized in August to end the 52-year-old conflict, Latin America's longest-running. 
It still needs to be ratified by voters, who will consider the agreement in a single-issue referendum on October 2.
The treaty, signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, better known as Timochenko, requires rebels to give up their weapons and participate in a transitional justice process toward reintegration. 
Colombia leader praises 'good peace' in lieu of 'perfect'

Colombia leader praises 'good peace' in lieu of 'perfect' 02:41

New political era

If and when the deal is approved by the electorate, the FARC will cease to be a rebel group and instead enter into politics as a left-wing party. 
The treaty grants the FARC 10 political seats, but it remains to be seen whether the rebel group, founded on Marxist ideologies of class struggle, can effectively transition into a political platform. 
The woman FARC held captive for 6 years

The woman FARC held captive for 6 years 07:35

While the deal symbolizes a chance for future generations to come of age in peace, the deal also signals a new chapter for the region. The longest-running war in the Americas will finally be over, bringing an end to armed political conflict in Latin America. 
However, not all groups are bound by the peace deal. The second most powerful group following the FARC, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, has announced interest in the peace deal but refused to end its practice of kidnapping.
The head of the FARC guerrillas Timoleon Jimenez signs the historic peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC.
The head of the FARC guerrillas Timoleon Jimenez signs the historic peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC.

End of an era for armed conflict in Latin America

Latin America has slowly been freeing itself from the shadows of the Cold War as countries such as Colombia, Guatemala, Bolivia and Chile -- with the help of the United States -- fought off rebel guerillas. 
US influence in Latin America

During the war against communism, the CIA supported governments and groups against leftist rebels. 

It also participated in coups such as the 1973 coup against Chile's socialist President Salvador.

The CIA's effort to overthrow Fidel Castro's Cuban communist regime in 1961 culminated in the Bay of Pigs invasion. The CIA trained Cuban exiles to rid Fidel from power but in failure the agency was exposed and Castro remained.

One of the most controversial US involvements was the Iran-Contra Affair, where Nicaraguan rebels were backed by the US and funded by profits made from selling weapons to Iran.

The US has funded the Colombian government to the tune of billions of dollars in its fight against FARC and the drug war.


"Across the region, the Cold War is over," said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Now, "Guerrilla war is no longer seen as a reasonable way to contest power." 
The FARC started in 1964 and, like its mentors in Cuba, was committed to redistributing the wealth, even if it meant by force. 
But half a century later, now funded by a sophisticated cocaine trafficking network and armed with child soldiers, the rallying cries to protect an agrarian society begin to sound antiquated and obsolete. 
According to Arnson, public approval for the FARC has never polled more than 5%.

War-weary, but still untrusting

FARC on Colombia peace deal: Difficult without amnesty

FARC on Colombia peace deal: Difficult without amnesty 01:14

For Jorge Bermudez, a retiree in Bogota, the peace deal is good in theory, but he remains wary.
"I don't think the agreement will become a reality because dealing with people who have killed so many children, that have maimed people and suddenly they are in government ... how will this country end up with such people?" he told CNN Español
Salud Hernandez, who has been a correspondent in Colombia for the daily newspaper El Mundo since 1999, has reasons to have ill faith in the FARC. Hernandez has covered this war extensively and was kidnapped herself this year by the ELN,in May. 
"Even speaking with the guerrilla fighters, they can't hide that what they have done for the last 52 years is massacre, kidnappings and extortion," she said in an interview with CNN Español's Fernando Ramos while covering the final FARC conference last week. 
"This is a group that didn't have the popular support practically and that has summoned the country to countless tragedies." 
A leading crusader against the peace deal is former President Alvaro Uribe Velez, whose father was killed by the FARC. He accused Santos of having "accepted all of the FARC's agenda." 
"To this terrorist group, they also give impunity, and political legitimacy to all its actors, including those responsible for massacres (and) the most severe offenses, and crimes against humanity," he said in a video posted to Twitter in August. 

Deal lives or dies on amnesty

Meanwhile, FARC leaders press that there is no peace without amnesty. 
Ivan Marquez, the group's chief negotiator, told CNN en Español, "Without this law, well, it is very difficult for the guerrillas to begin their movement into the peace zones or to the transitional points for normalization." 
As world leaders cheer the historic signing of a peace deal that ends the longest running war in the Americas, the rest of the peace process is now in the hands of Colombians. 

CNN's Radina Grigova and Natalie Gallón contributed to this report. Rafael Romo reported from Colombia; Kelly Chen wrote in Atlanta.


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The outcome of referendums continues to surprise the world. What's next for our neighbour, Colombia?

APTOPIX Colombia Peace Referendum

Colombians narrowly reject peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels

President Santos says ceasefire will remain, will meet with parties Monday to work toward peace after no vote

Colombians narrowly rejected a peace deal with Marxist insurgents on Sunday, plunging the nation into uncertainty and handing a major defeat to President Juan Manuel Santos, who vowed to keep a ceasefire in place and not give up his efforts to end the 52-year war.


A boy celebrates in Bogota on Sunday after knowing the no vote result of a referendum on whether to ratify a historic peace accord to end a 52-year war in Colombia between the state and the communist FARC rebels. (Diana Sanchez/AFP/Getty Images)

Santos accepted the no result, and said he would meet with all political parties on Monday to find a way forward for the peace process. 

"I won't give up. I'll continue to search for peace until the last moment of my mandate," Santos said in a televised address recognizing his defeat.

The vote will not affect Colombia's stability, he said. 

Before the referendum result, the 53-year-old president said he had no Plan B and would return Colombia to war if the no vote won.

A few states where the yes vote was winning by a wide margin were still counting ballots, but as the hours passed the chances of reversing the result were fading. Pre-election polls had pointed to the yes vote winning by an almost 2-to-1 margin.

A victory would have allowed him to start implementing the deal painstakingly negotiated in Cuba over the past four years to end the longest-running conflict in the Americas.

But the no camp won 50.23 per cent to 49.76 percent, as votes were counted from 99.59 per cent of voting stations.

FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono said on Sunday that the insurgent group maintained its desire for peace despite the no win.
"The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future," Londono, known by his nom de guerre, Timochenko, said to journalists in Havana. "To the Colombian people who dream of peace, count on us. Peace will triumph." 

Opponents of the pact believed it was too soft on the FARC rebels by allowing them to re-enter society, form a political party and escape traditional jail sentences.

They want a renegotiation of the deal.

"I voted no. I don't want to teach my children that everything can be forgiven," said Alejandro Jaramillo, 35, angered that the rebels would not serve jail time. 

Sunday's vote had asked for a simple yes or no on whether Colombians supported the accord signed last Monday by 
Santos and Timochenko.

Uribe says rebels should pay for crimes

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, whose numbers were halved to about 7,000 in recent years because of a U.S.-backed military offensive, had agreed to turn in weapons and fight for power at the ballot box instead.

Influential former president Alvaro Uribe led the no camp, arguing that rebels should pay for crimes in jail and never be given congressional seats. 


A man in Bogota shouts slogans supporting the vote for no in the referendum. (Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images)

"This is a clear message. ... I ask all citizens to trust we will know how to handle this situation without agitation," Uribe said about the no decision.

"We'll work with the government to remake this accord," said former vice-president Francisco Santos, a prominent no supporter.

Under the accord, the FARC, which began as a peasant revolt in 1964, would have been able to compete in the 2018 presidential and legislative elections and have 10 unelected congressional seats guaranteed through 2026.

It would also have given up its role in the lucrative illegal drug trade and taken part in reforming rural Colombia.

But controversially, many rebel leaders who ordered killings, bombings and displacements would have had to appear 
before a special tribunal that could sentence them to alternative punishments like clearing land mines.

For decades, the FARC bankrolled the longest-running conflict in the Americas through the illegal drug trade, kidnapping and extortion, spreading a sense of terror that left few Colombians unaffected. The conflict took more than 220,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

The bloodshed, at its worst, saw the FARC positioned close to the capital and the state on the verge of collapse. Battles between the guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug gangs and the army raged in the countryside and there were atrocities committed on all sides. 

The highly polarized campaign exposed how steep a challenge the government would face implementing the 297-page accord and bringing about real reconciliation. Colombians overwhelmingly loathe the FARC, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group, and many considered provisions in the accord that would spare the rebels jail time an insult to victims of the long-running conflict.


Anibal Munoz looks on as he supports the plebiscite in downtown Bogota. (John Vizcaino/Reuters)

Low voter turnout to referendum

Turnout to Sunday's referendum was low, less than the 40 per cent seen in recent congressional elections, a further sign to some analysts that Colombians' enthusiasm for the ambitious accord was lacking.

Turnout was especially affected along the Caribbean coast, where support for the government is highest, as a result of heavy rainfall from Hurricane Matthew, which made it impossible to set up a few polling stations in La Guajira peninsula.

In the past month, ever since the deal was announced in Cuba after gruelling negotiations, the government had spent heavily on television ads and staged concerts and peace rallies around the country to get out the vote. It even enrolled the help of U2's Bono and former Beatle Ringo Starr. And for the first time in an election, it made ballots available in Braille so visually impaired Colombians could vote.

With files from The Associated Press


Edited by Keith Woolford
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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the country's decades-long civil war — a surprise in light of his peace plan's recent failure with Colombian voters. 

In a referendum on Sunday, Colombians narrowly rejected the peace accord Santos had worked out with FARC guerrillas to end the conflict that since 1964 has killed more than 200,000 people in the South American country. Many voters reckoned it was too lenient on the Marxist guerrillas.

"The referendum was not a vote for or against peace," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said early Friday morning, in Oslo. "What the No side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement."

"The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace," the committee said. 

Santos echoed that sentiment in statement: "I receive this award in their name: the Colombian people who have suffered so much with this war." 

The committee did not cite his counterpart in the negotiations, FARC leader Rodrigo Londono.

Santos, 65, is an unlikely peacemaker. The Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia's wealthiest families, as defense minister a decade ago, he was responsible for some of the FARC's biggest military setbacks. Those included a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive by the rebels for more than five years.

Other groups and individuals thought to have been in the running for this year's Peace Prize included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Syrian aid organization known as the White Helmets, and the Greek Islanders, a collection of villagers who rescued hundreds of thousands of refugees off the shore of Lesbos.

Santos is 15th head of state or government to win the Peace Prize while in office. He is the second Nobel laureate born in Colombia, following Gabriel García Márquez who won the prize for literature in 1982.

The prize is worth about $1.2 million Cdn (eight million kronor).

The Nobel science awards were announced earlier this week. Three researchers shared the prize for chemistryfor their work on molecular machines, while the medicine prize went to a Japanese biologist who discovered the process by which a cell breaks down and recycles content. The physics prize was shared by three British-born scientists for theoretical discoveries that shed light on strange states of matter.

The economics and literature prizes will be announced next week.


With files from Reuters


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'Peace cannot wait anymore': Colombia, Marxist rebels reach new deal to end 52-year war

Accord comes weeks after original deal was rejected by Colombian voters in referendum

Thomson Reuters Posted: Nov 12, 2016 6:36 PM ET Last Updated: Nov 12, 2016 7:18 PM ET


Colombia's government and Marxist guerillas said on Saturday they had agreed on a new peace deal to end their 52-year war, six weeks after the original one was narrowly rejected in a referendum for being too lenient on the rebels.

The government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who have been negotiating a deal in Havana for four years, said they had incorporated changes proposed by various sectors of society into the accord.

"We have reached a new final accord to end the armed conflict that integrates changes, precisions and proposals suggested by the most diverse sectors of society," both sides said in a statement.

"We call upon all Colombia and the international community....to back this new accord and its quick implementation so as to leave the tragedy of war in the past," the statement read. "Peace cannot wait anymore."

Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle says that he and rebel negotiator Luciano Marin, alias Ivan Marquez, signed the deal in Cuba, putting an end to a half-century-long conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives

On Saturday, De la Calle said the negotiations had been intense. "We worked 15 days and nights to reach this new agreement." 

He said among the modifications made were related to punishments and justice for participants in the conflict accused of war crimes. He said the exact details would be released later.

"We are convinced that this accord offers roads to peace that are viable and possible," he said.


deal, said he asked for the opportunity for his camp and the victims of the conflict to briefly study the new accord before its implementation.

"I have asked the president that the texts they announce in Havana not be definitive," he said in a statement posted on his Twitter account, adding that his camp might want to make some further tweaks.

Uribe and his supporters had demanded stiffer penalties for rebels who committed war crimes and criticized the promise of a political role for the FARC.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the country's decades-long civil war, which was considered a surprise in light of his peace plan's rejection by Colombian voters. 

It is still unclear if Santos will put the new accord up for a popular vote. He is set to speak about the new deal later on Saturday.



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