Colombia signs new peace deal with Farc rebels

Ivan Marquez, chief negotiator of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, from left, Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, and Humberto de La Calle, head of Colombia's government peace negotiation team, applaud after the signing of the latest text of the peace accord between the two sides in Havana, Cuba. Picture by Desmond Boylan, Associated Press
Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press

COLOMBIA'S government and its largest rebel group have signed a new peace accord following the surprise rejection of an earlier deal by voters in a referendum.

The latest agreement aims to address some of the concerns of opponents of the original deal, who said it was too lenient on a leftist rebel group that had kidnapped and committed war crimes.

"The new deal is an opportunity to clear up doubts, but above all to unite us," said government negotiator Humberto de La Calle, who signed the accord along with rebel negotiator Ivan Marquez in Havana.

It aims to end a half-century-long conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and driven almost eight million people from their homes.

Mr De la Calle described the text of the modified accord as "much better" than the previous one, but did not say if or how it would be submitted again to voters or to congress.

President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) inked an initial peace deal on September 26 amid international fanfare after more than four years of negotiations.

But voters rejected it on October 2 by just 55,000 votes, dealing a stunning setback to Mr Santos who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Colombia's conflict.

Mr Santos immediately began looking for ways to rescue the deal and the sides extended a ceasefire until December 31 to get the modified agreement done.

The rebels insisted they would not go back to the drawing board and throw out years of arduous negotiations with the government.

"The meetings with the Farc delegation were intense," said Mr De la Calle. "We worked 15 days and nights to reach this new agreement."

He said some modifications made were related to justice, punishment for combatants accused of war crimes and reparations for the conflict's victims.

He said negotiators had worked out the details of how and where those responsible for crimes would serve their sentences, addressing complaints by opponents that rebels accused of atrocities would not be imprisoned but submitted to "alternative punishments".

Other modifications include requiring the rebels to present an inventory of acquired money and holdings, and the provision of safeguards for private owners and property during reforms carried out in the countryside.

Cases of conflict participants accused of drug trafficking would be dealt with under Colombia's penal code and be heard by high courts.

In a televised address on Saturday night, Mr Santos said he had instructed the negotiating team to return to Bogota to explain the details of the new accord to the "no" campaign led by conservative former president Alvaro Uribe.

Mr Marquez said "the implementation of the accord is all that remains for the construction of the basis for peace in Colombia".

US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Colombians, including Mr Santos and those from the "no" campaign, for reaching the new peace deal.

Colombia's government is also seeking to hold peace talks with the country's second-biggest rebel group.

But Mr Santos wants the National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish initials ELN, to first free a former congressman it has held captive for six months before holding negotiations.

The ELN is far smaller than the Farc and was founded in the same year, 1964.

Inspired by the Cuban revolution, it is ideologically more doctrinaire than the Farc. It has fewer than 2,000 fighters, making it less than one-third the size of the Farc.

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