Colom­bia, rebels sign peace ac­cord

But vot­ers will have fi­nal say in Oct. 2 ref­er­en­dum

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Joshua Good­man and An­drea Ro­driguez

CARTA­GENA, Colom­bia — Colom­bia’s gov­ern­ment and the coun­try’s largest rebel move­ment signed a his­toric peace ac­cord Mon­day evening, end­ing a half-cen­tury of com­bat that caused more than 220,000 deaths and made 8 mil­lion home­less.

Un­der­lin­ing the im­por­tance of the deal, Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos and Ro­drigo Lon­dono, leader of the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia, or FARC, signed the 297-page agree­ment be­fore a crowd of 2,500 for­eign dig­ni­taries and spe­cial guests, in­clud­ing U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki­moon and U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry.

Many in the au­di­ence had tears in their eyes, and shouts rose urg­ing San­tos and Lon­dono to “Hug, hug, hug!” But in the end, the two men just clasped hands and the rebel com­man­der, also known as Ti­mochenko, put on a pin shaped like a dove that San­tos had worn on his lapel for years. Sec­onds later, five jets buzzed over­head in for­ma­tion trail­ing smoke in the colors of Colom­bia’s flag. Dur­ing a minute of si­lence for the war’s vic­tims, 50 white flags were raised. Ev­ery­one at the event wore white as a sym­bol of peace.

Ear­lier Mon­day, San­tos and for­eign dig­ni­taries at­tended a Mass cel­e­brated by Car­di­nal Pietro Parolin, the Vat­i­can’s sec­re­tary of state, at a church named for St. Peter Claver, a 17th-cen­tury Je­suit priest revered as the “slave of slaves” for his role aid­ing tens of thou­sands of African slaves brought to the New World as chat­tel. In a stir­ring homily, Pope Fran­cis’ en­voy praised Colom­bians for over­com­ing the pain of the bloody con­flict.

Across the coun­try, Colom­bians marked the oc­ca­sion with a host of ac­tiv­i­ties, from peace con­certs by top­name artists to a street party in the cap­i­tal, Bo­gota, where the sign­ing cer­e­mony was to be broad­cast live on a gi­ant screen. It was also cel­e­brated by hun­dreds of guer­ril­las gath­ered in a re­mote re­gion of south­ern Colom­bia where last week top com­man­ders rat­i­fied the ac­cord in what they said would be their last con­fer­ence as a guer­rilla army.

The sign­ing didn’t close the deal, how­ever. Colom­bians will have the fi­nal say on en­dors­ing or re­ject­ing the ac­cord in an Oct. 2 ref­er­en­dum. Opin­ion polls point to an al­most-cer­tain vic­tory for the “yes” vote, but some an­a­lysts warn that a closerthan-ex­pected fin­ish or low voter turnout could bode poorly for the tough task the coun­try faces in im­ple­ment­ing the ac­cord.

Among the big­gest chal­lenges will be judg­ing the war crimes of guer­ril­las as well as state ac­tors. Un­der terms of the ac­cord, rebels who lay down their weapons and con­fess their abuses will be spared jail time and be al­lowed to pro­vide repa­ra­tions to vic­tims by car­ry­ing out de­vel­op­ment work in ar­eas hard hit by the con­flict. That Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos, left, and Ro­drigo Lon­dono of the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia shake hands at the sign­ing of the peace ac­cord Mon­day. has an­gered some vic­tims and con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents of San­tos, a few hun­dred of whom took to the streets Mon­day to protest what they con­sider the gov­ern­ment’s ex­ces­sive le­niency to­ward guer­rilla lead­ers re­spon­si­ble for scores of atroc­i­ties in a con­flict fu­eled by the coun­try’s co­caine trade.

To shouts of “San­tos is a cow­ard!” for­mer Pres­i­dent Al­varo Uribe, the ar­chi­tect of the decade­long, U.S.-backed mil­i­tary of­fen­sive that forced the FARC to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, said the peace deal puts Colom­bia on the path to be­com­ing a left­ist dic­ta­tor­ship in the mold of Cuba or Venezuela — two coun­tries that along with Nor­way played a vi­tal role spon­sor­ing the four-year-long talks.

“The demo­cratic world would never al­low (Osama) bin Laden or those be­long­ing to (the Is­lamic State) to be­come pres­i­dent, so why does Colom­bia have to al­low the elec­tion of the ter­ror­ists who’ve kid­napped 11,700 chil­dren or raped 6,800 women?” he told protesters in a work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood on the out­skirts of Carta­gena.

The do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion con­trasts with wide­spread ac­claim abroad. On Mon­day, Euro­pean Union for­eign pol­icy co­or­di­na­tor Fed­er­ica Mogherini said that with the sign­ing of the peace pact the EU would sus­pend the FARC from its list of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions. Asked whether the U.S. would fol­low suit, Kerry ex­pressed a pos­si­ble open­ness to sim­i­lar ac­tion.

The FARC was es­tab­lished in 1964 by self- de­fense groups and com­mu­nist ac­tivists who joined forces to re­sist a gov­ern­ment mil­i­tary on­slaught.

LUIS ACOSTA/GETTY-AFP

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