Colombia government, FARC Rebels Agree on Cease-Fire


Colombia : Colombia's government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla force have agreed on a definitive ceasefire, taking one of the last steps towards ending Latin America's longest civil war. The two sides, which have been negotiating in Cuba since November 2012, said in a statement that they had also agreed to the disarmament of 7,000 guerrillas fighters and a security plan to protect demobilized rebels, who have long feared being targeted by regional warlords upon laying down their weapons.

People familiar with the talks say the agreement, while not a final peace accord, means the two sides have agreed to end a conflict that began in 1964 when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was founded as a peasant movement in the mountains of Tolima province. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the presidents of Chile and Venezuela, peace talks co-sponsors with Cuba, will also be there.

"Tomorrow will be a great day," Santos wrote on Twitter. "We're working for a Colombia in peace, a dream that's beginning to become reality." U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States welcomed the news and congratulated Santos.The cease-fire is the last major step before both sides sign a final peace agreement. Santos said he expected that to take place July 20 after a final few minor issues are worked out. It will then be put to the Colombian people in a referendum.

The deal also includes land reform provisions and will give former rebels some political power. Ex- FARC fighters can also avoid jail time in exchange for community service and travel restrictions. Both sides had expected to sign the final agreement in March. But questions remain on exactly how the final deal will be ratified and given legal force so that it won't unravel should a more conservative government succeed Santos, who leaves office in 2018. The two sides also must decide who will preside over a special war crimes tribunal to consider charges against fighters on both sides.

The Marxist FARC rebels launched their uprising as a poor people's rebellion in 1964 and grew into a dangerous fighting force. FARC turned to drug trafficking and kidnapping to fund its guerilla war. But the rebels failed to overthrow a succession of Colombian governments, including some which had U.S. military aid. A 15-year, U.S.-backed military offensive thinned the rebels' ranks and forced its aging leaders to the negotiating table in 2012. The peace talks have been bumpy and extended much longer than Santos or anyone else anticipated. But if a final deal is reached, it will end Latin America's last major insurgency, one accused of being a major supplier of cocaine to the U.S.

Still, the much smaller and more recalcitrant National Liberation Army has a toehold in some areas and could fill the void left by the FARC. The ELN agreed to a peace process with the government this year, but those talks have yet to start because of Santos' insistence that the group renounce kidnapping.