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Tuesday 20 March 2018

Colombia and Farc rebels announce deal on ceasefire

Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos will travel to Cuba to unveil details of the agreement
Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos will travel to Cuba to unveil details of the agreement

Colombia's government and leftist rebels have announced that they have reached a deal on a ceasefire that would be the last major step toward ending Latin America's oldest guerrilla war.

President Juan Manuel Santos will travel to Cuba on Thursday to unveil details of the agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon announced he also would be present to witness the signing of the accord.

Colombia's conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions. But a 15-year, US-backed military offensive thinned the rebels' ranks and forced its ageing leaders to the negotiating table in 2012.

Momentum had been building toward a breakthrough after Mr Santos said this week that he hoped to end a half-century of bloodshed by July 20, marking Colombia's declaration of independence from Spain.

But Wednesday's agreement went further than expected, removing all doubt that a final deal is around the corner.

In addition to announcing a framework for the ceasefire, both sides said they agreed on how the Farc's estimated 7,000 fighters will demobilise and hand over their weapons, as well as the security guarantees that will be provided to leftist activists after the conflict ends.

Negotiators in January tasked the UN with monitoring adherence to an eventual ceasefire and resolving disputes emerging from the demobilisation.

"Tomorrow will be a great day," Mr Santos blasted out on Twitter. "We're working for a Colombia in peace, a dream that's beginning to become reality."

The presidents of Cuba, Venezuela and Chile - the three nations sponsoring the now almost four-year-old peace talks in Havana - were also expected to attend Thursday's ceremony, and the Obama administration was sending its special envoy to the talks, former diplomat Bernard Aronson.

With the latest advances, only few minor pending items remain, the biggest being how the final deal will be ratified and given legal force so that it will not unravel should a more conservative government succeed Mr Santos, who leaves office in 2018.

The two sides must also settle on a mechanism for selecting judges who will preside over special peace tribunals evaluating the war crimes of guerrillas as well as the military.

The peace talks have been bumpy and extended much longer than Mr Santos or anyone else anticipated.

Mr Santos has vowed to put the Farc deal to a referendum vote so Colombians can express their opinion.


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