Colombia embarks on path to peace with historic accord

Colombia embarks on path to peace with historic accord

CARTAGENA, Colombia – The Associated Press
Colombia embarks on path to peace with historic accord After a half-century of combat that spilled blood across this South American nation, Colombians have embarked on a new, but difficult path to settle their political differences with the signing of a historic peace accord between the government and leftist rebels.
The first test after the Sep. 26 signing is a weekend referendum in which voters are being asked to ratify or reject the deal. If it passes, as expected, Colombia will move on to the thornier and still uncertain task of reconciliation.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londono, top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, formally signed the agreement before a crowd of 2,500 foreign dignitaries and special guests, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Many in the audience, all dressed in white, had tears in their eyes as Santos removed from his lapel a pin shaped like a white dove that he has been wearing for years and handed it over to his former adversary, who fastened it to his own shirt.

It was one of many symbolic gestures during the 90-minute ceremony overlooking the colonial ramparts of Cartagena that filled Colombians with hope and optimism for the arduous work ahead implementing a 297-page accord that took four grueling years to negotiate.

If the accord is accepted by Colombian voters in the Oct. 2 referendum, as polls say it will, the FARC’s estimated 7,000 fighters would have to turn over their weapons gradually to a team of United Nations-sponsored observers within six months.

A much tougher challenge will be reconciliation, a process that will require rebels and state actors who want to avoid jail to confess their war crimes committed during a 52-year conflict marred by brutalities on both sides.

Longer term, the two sides have drafted an ambitious agenda to hasten the development of Colombia’s long-neglected countryside and rid it of illegal coca crops that starting in the 1980s strengthened the FARC - and some say morally corrupted it - while other insurgencies across Latin America fell to the wayside.

Londono, best known by his alias Timochenko, called Santos “a courageous partner” and proclaimed there was no turning back on the FARC’s decision to abandon Colombia’s jungles.

“Let no one doubt that we are going into politics without weapons,” he said before ending his speech with a simple but loudly applauded appeal for forgiveness

“I apologize for all the pain that we have caused,” he said.

Santos, who for years was the FARC’s top military opponent, was equally emphatic that he would honor his promise to promote pluralism and open up Colombia’s traditionally elite-driven political system.

“As head of state of the fatherland we all love, I want to welcome you to democracy,” he said. Earlier, he led the crowd in chants of “No more war! No more war! No more war!”