Colombia – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the left-wing FARC rebel Leader Timoleon Jimenez (Timochenko) signed on Monday an agreement ending a half-century war that killed a quarter of a million people and made their nation a byword for violence, after more than four years of grueling negotiations in Cuba.
The agreement to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict will turn the FARC guerrillas into a political party fighting at the ballot box instead of the battlefield they have occupied since 1964.
The Guests included United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Cuban President Raul Castro, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and victims of the conflict.
“The U.N. will assist in the implementation of the accord and offer Colombians our complete support at a time that sees a new destiny for the nation,” Ban Ki-moon said before flying to Colombia.
Colombians will vote on 2 October on whether to ratify the agreement, but polls indicate it will pass easily. In Cartagena on Monday, huge billboards urged a “yes” vote.
The FARC, which stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began as a peasant revolt, became a big player in the cocaine trade and at its strongest had 20,000 fighters. Now it must hand over weapons to the United Nations within 180 days.
The Farc declared a unilateral ceasefire over a year ago, but Santos refused to grant a formal truce until talks were concluded, though he ended aerial bombardments of guerrilla camps.
Colombians are nervous over how the remaining 7,000 rebels will integrate into society, but most are optimistic peace will bring more benefits than problems.
The five-decade conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and driven more than 5 million from their homes.
The accord commits Colombia’s government to carrying out aggressive land reform, overhauling its anti-narcotics strategy and greatly expanding the state’s presence in long-neglected areas.