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Peace commitment signed between FARC and Colombian government

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has signed a breakthrough peace commitment with the leaders of the country’s largest rebel group, FARC, and in so doing has laid the groundwork for a possible end to Latin America’s longest running armed conflict.

“We are adversaries, but today we advance in the same direction, the most noble direction of any society, which is peace,” said Mr. Santos, speaking from the Cuban capital, Havana, where negotiations between the government and the rebels have been taking place since November 2012.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, Santos and high ranking members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said that they had overcome the last major obstacle to rapprochement by agreeing on a strategy for compensating victims and punishing those who had engaged in human rights abuses. The terms of this agreement stipulate that fighters who confess their crimes and promise never to take up arms against the state again will face up to eight years of restrictions to their liberty. Meanwhile, negotiators are still working on establishing a mechanism for allowing fighters to surrender their weapons and demobilise. If all goes well, a definitive peace deal is
expected to be signed in six months. However, Santos has also promised the Colombian people that they will be given an opportunity to voice their opinions in a national referendum and that any future deals with the rebel group must also pass through Congress.

Over the past three years, negotiations between the two sides have been marked by advances and setbacks. Before yesterday’s signing ceremony, both sides had already agreed to plans on political participation for former FARC guerrillas, on land reform and measures to combat drug trafficking. In a further gesture of goodwill, earlier in the year FARC also declared a unilateral ceasefire and agreed to help the Colombian government remove thousands of land mines planted by the rebel group. Yet in spite of all the progress being made, negotiators have so far been unable to resolve an issue which still has the potential to undermine any hope of lasting peace in the war-torn South American nation: how to adequately punish rebel fighters and commanders for atrocities committed since the first shots in the conflict were fired? Resolving this problem to the satisfaction of both
parties is likely to be foremost in the minds of negotiators as the countdown to the peace deal begins.

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