Colombia and Farc rebels announce peace deal to end 50-year war

People celebrate in Bogota after Colombia's peace accord. Picture by Fernando Vergara, Associated Press
Andrea Rodriguez in Havana and Joshua Goodman in Bogota

COLOMBIA'S government and its biggest rebel group have announced a deal to end their country's half-century guerrilla war, one of the world's longest-running armed conflicts.

The government's accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) must still be ratified by voters in order to take effect and President Juan Manuel Santos says he will hold a referendum on October 2.

Mr Santos said he would present the final accord with the rebels to Colombia's congress for consideration on Thursday.

MPs have a month to comment but cannot block Mr Santos' plans for the vote.

The announcement in Havana, Cuba, of a deal after four years of talks opens the possibility for Colombians to put behind them political bloodshed that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and driven more than five million people from their homes.

In 2003 three Irish republicans, Niall Connolly, from Dublin, James Monaghan from Co Donegal, and Martin McCauley, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, were sentenced for training Farc rebels in Colombia. The three later vanished while on bail and later returned to the Republic.

Colombia's landmark accord commits the government to carrying out aggressive land reform, overhauling its anti-drugs strategy and greatly expanding the state into traditionally neglected areas of the country.

Negotiations began in November 2012 but were plagued by distrust built up during decades of war propaganda on both sides.

Polls say most Colombians loathe Farc rebels and show no hesitation labelling them "narco-terrorists" for their heavy involvement in Colombia's cocaine trade, an association for which members of the group's top leadership have been indicted in the US.

Meanwhile, Farc held on to a Cold War view of Colombia's political and economic establishment as "oligarchs" at the service of the US

The rebel army was forced to the negotiating table after a decade of heavy losses that saw a succession of top commanders killed by the US-backed military and its ranks thinned by half to the current 7,000 troops.

Mr Santos must now present the accord to congress and ask it to set a date for a referendum that could take place as early as next month. Polls show Colombians would probably endorse any deal in a simple yes or no vote.

After the agreement is signed, Farc will begin mobilising its troops to 31 zones scattered across the country, and 90 days later they are supposed to begin handing their weapons over to United Nations-sponsored monitors.

Over the last 13 months, since Farc declared a unilateral ceasefire and the government reciprocated with a truce of its own, violence has fallen to the lowest level since Farc was created 52 years ago.

The much-smaller National Liberation Army will also remain active, although it is pursuing a peace deal of its own.

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