Gov­ern­ment, rebels sign re­vised peace agree­ment

Jamaica Gleaner - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS -

Juan Manuel San­tos BO­GOTA (AP): OLOMBIAN PRES­I­DENT Juan Manuel San­tos signed a new peace agree­ment with the coun­try’s largest rebel move­ment yes­ter­day, aiming to end a half-cen­tury of hos­til­i­ties.

San­tos and Ro­drigo Lon­dono, leader of the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia, signed the 310-page ac­cord at Bo­gota’s his­toric Colon Theater – nearly two months af­ter the orig­i­nal deal was re­jected in a ref­er­en­dum.

Af­ter sign­ing, they clasped hands to shouts of “Yes we could!”

Thurs­day’s hastily or­gan­ised cer­e­mony was a far more mod­est and somber event than the one in Septem­ber where the two men signed an ac­cord in front of an au­di­ence of for­eign lead­ers and United Na­tions Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-Moon.

CVARIOUS CHANGES

The new ac­cord in­tro­duces some 50 changes in­tended to as­suage crit­ics led by stillpow­er­ful for­mer Pres­i­dent Al­varo Uribe. They range from a pro­hi­bi­tion on for­eign mag­is­trates judg­ing crimes by the FARC or gov­ern­ment, to a commitment from the in­sur­gents to for­feit as­sets, some of them amassed through drug traf­fick­ing, to help com­pen­sate their vic­tims.

But the FARC would not go along with the op­po­si­tion’s strong­est de­mands – jail sen­tences for rebel lead­ers who com­mit­ted atroc­i­ties and stricter lim­its on their future par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­tics.

In an act of protest, mem­bers of Uribe’s political party are con­sid­er­ing a boy­cott of next week’s sched­uled de­bate in Congress on rat­i­fy­ing the agree­ment, ac­cus­ing the leg­is­la­ture of dis­obey­ing the con­sti­tu­tion. They also threat­ened to call for street protests to de­nounce what they said was a “blow against democ­racy.

“The gov­ern­ment pre­ferred to im­pose it­self in a way that di­vides Colom­bians in­stead of a national pact that would bring us to­gether,” Uribe’s Demo­cratic Cen­ter party said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day.

The lack of broad sup­port for the ac­cord will make the al­ready-steep chal­lenge of im­ple­ment­ing it even tougher.

Colom­bians over­whelm­ingly loathe the FARC for crimes such as kid­nap­pings and drug-traf­fick­ing. En­sur­ing that the 8,000-plus fight­ers do not wind up join­ing crim­i­nal gangs ram­pant through­out the coun­try, or the muchs­maller National Lib­er­a­tion Army, will also test the state’s abil­ity to make its pres­ence felt in tra­di­tion­ally ne­glected ru­ral ar­eas at a time of fi­nan­cial stress trig­gered by low oil prices.

There is also a risk that peace could trig­ger more blood­shed, as it did fol­low­ing a pre­vi­ous peace process with the FARC in the 1980s when thou­sands of for­mer guer­ril­las, labor ac­tivists and com­mu­nist mil­i­tants were gunned down by right-wing mili­tias, some­times in col­lab­o­ra­tion with state agents.

DOZENS KILLED

That fear, al­though less preva­lent than in the darker days of Colom­bia’s half-cen­tury con­flict, has be­come more ur­gent with more than a dozen hu­man rights de­fend­ers and land ac­tivists in ar­eas dom­i­nated by the FARC be­ing killed by un­known as­sailants since the first sign­ing cer­e­mony in Septem­ber.

San­tos this week held an emer­gency meet­ing with his Cab­i­net and UN of­fi­cials to dis­cuss the mur­ders, tak­ing an op­por­tu­nity to re­in­force his mes­sage that peace can’t wait. So far this year, 70 have been killed, ac­cord­ing to Bo­gotabased We Are De­fend­ers, more than in all of 2015 and 2014.

“We have to take ac­tion. There’s no time to lose,” San­tos said in a tele­vised ad­dress an­nounc­ing Thurs­day’s cer­e­mony with less than 40 hours of an­tic­i­pa­tion.

Once signed, San­tos will in­tro­duce the ac­cord to Congress, where a solid ma­jor­ity in sup­port of peace is ex­pected to rat­ify it as early as next week. Law­mak­ers will then em­bark on the net­tle­some task of pass­ing leg­is­la­tion so the guer­ril­las can be­gin con­cen­trat­ing in some 20plus de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion ar­eas, where they will be­gin turn­ing over their weapons to United Na­tion­sspon­sored mon­i­tors. Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu

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