Colombia, Marxist Rebels to Sign Deal Ending War by March

CUBA-COLOMBIA-FARC-CONFLICT-PEACE-CASTRO-SANTOS-TIMOCHENKO

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the head of the FARC guerrilla Timoleon Jimenez shake hands in front of Cuban President Raul Castro during a meeting in Havana on September 23.

Photographer: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images
  • FARC rebels agree to lay down weapons within 60 days of deal
  • Colombian peace talks in Havana have dragged on since 2012

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the nation’s Marxist guerrillas shook hands as the two sides agreed to sign a peace deal within six months, and the rebels agreed to then lay down their weapons.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will start to disarm within 60 days of the peace deal being signed, the parties said in a joint press conference in Havana, where peace talks are taking place. Negotiators set a deadline of March 23, 2016, to wrap up the talks and sign.

Negotiators reached a breakthrough on a major sticking point which had deadlocked the talks for more than a year, reaching an agreement on punishment for crimes against humanity committed during a five-decade conflict. The government and the FARC have held talks since 2012, seeking a peace deal to end a war that has left more than 200,000 dead.

“We have ensured justice, and not impunity, and we have set deadlines to reach an end to the war,” Santos told reporters afterward.

The agreement contemplates an “ample” amnesty for political offenses, but no impunity for crimes such as massacres, torture, rape, kidnapping and forced displacement, according to the joint statement. People confessing to such crimes will face restrictions on their liberty of between five and eight years, while people refusing to take responsibility and found guilty face up to 20 years in jail. The agreement applies to the army and the police, as well as the guerrillas.

‘Home Free’

“We are watching the beginning of the end of the conflict,” said Adam Isacson, a Colombia specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, said in a phone interview.

FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, alias Timochenko, has been fighting the Colombian state for decades, and had a $5 million reward put on his head by the U.S., who say he’s a terrorist and a cocaine trafficker. Santos spent years overseeing efforts to kill him, first as Defense Minister and then as President.

Colombian soldiers carry equipment of one of ten soldiers killed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, in the rural area of Buenos Aires, department of Cauca, Colombia.
Colombian soldiers carry equipment of one of ten soldiers killed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, in the rural area of Buenos Aires, department of Cauca, Colombia.
Photographer: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

“Even after having paid a high price for rebelling against injustice, with our families also suffering the consequences of repression, putting our lives at risk, we insurgents are prepared to take responsibility for our actions during the resistance,” Timochenko said.

In July, Santos said that if peace negotiators reach an agreement on justice, the talks would be “home free”. A peace deal will boost economic growth by 0.3 percentage point per year, according to a study by Bank of America, while Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas estimates it could add a full percentage point to growth.

Budget Strain

An agreement may put some strain on the nation’s 2016 budget, while the economic benefits take longer to materialize, said Francisco Rodriguez, senior Andean economist for Bank of America.

“A peace agreement is certainly not factored into the 2016 budget and there will have to be a discussion as to what additional appropriations will be needed to finance it,” Rodriguez said in reply to e-mailed questions.

Negotiators had previously reached agreements on agrarian reform, political participation and fighting illegal drugs, and still need to agree details on the end of the conflict and the implementation of the deals. None of the agreements will take effect until a full peace deal is reached with an end to hostilities, and voters approve it.

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