Colombia and Farc announce peace talks breakthrough

Guerrilla movement commits to laying down arms within 60 days of a final treaty

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos (left) seals the deal in a handshake with  the head of the Farc, Rodrigo Londono, in the presence of   Cuban president Raul Castro.  Photograph: AFP Photo/Getty Images

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos (left) seals the deal in a handshake with the head of the Farc, Rodrigo Londono, in the presence of Cuban president Raul Castro. Photograph: AFP Photo/Getty Images

 

A final resolution of Colombia’s long-running civil war moved significantly closer on Wednesday after the country’s government and largest guerrilla movement announced plans to end hostilities by early next year.

The deal was sealed with a historic handshake between Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, at peace talks hosted by Raúl Castro in the Cuban capital of Havana.

Under the deal Mr Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, committed the Farc to laying down its arms within 60 days of a final treaty which both sides agreed to signing by March 23rd next year.

The breakthrough came after negotiators agreed mechanisms to deal with the thorny issue of amnesty and reparations for victims after a half century of warfare that has left hundreds of thousands dead and several million Colombians internally displaced.

This week’s deal will see the creation of a parallel justice system made up of Colombian and foreign magistrates that will try cases related to the conflict. State and guerrilla participants who admit their guilt of crimes before the new courts will receive lighter sentences than if tried in Colombia’s existing legal system.

Those sentenced after confession will serve between five and eight years during which time their movements will be restricted and they will carry out social work as reparation for victims. Speaking to reporters Mr Santos said the agreement provided “maximum justice for the victims”. Those guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity cannot avail of the process.

Under pressure from the Colombian military which has killed three generations of its leadership in the last eight years, the Farc has now ceded a central demand that its fighters not be prosecuted for their actions during the conflict.

That stand faced stiff resistance within Colombian civil society where the group has little support after years of kidnapping for ransom and deep involvement in the country’s cocaine trade.

The agreement does not yet cover Colombia’s second guerrilla group, the smaller National Liberation Army, or ELN. Despite being closely aligned with the communist regime in Cuba it has resisted full participation in the peace talks.

Earlier this month the ELN’s principle commander Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista told regional reporters that his group and the Farc were discussing reviving a committee to co-ordinate strategy between the two movements, a declaration widely interpreted as a signal the ELN might now participate in any final peace agreement.