By Richard McColl
President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC commander-in-chief Rodrigo Londono Echeverri signed an historic peace agreement Monday at a ceremony that ended the longest conflict in the Western hemisphere.
"We have lived and we have suffered for 52 years through an armed conflict between sons of the same nation," Santos said before an audience of global dignitaries. "We say it loud and clear, no more war."
The document was signed with a pen made from a bullet to symbolize the transition from bullets to education and future.
Fifteen heads of state, including Raul Castro of Cuba, the host nation for the peace talks since November 2011, Spanish King Juan Carlos, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon.
"In the name of the FARC, I apologize for all the pain that we have caused in this war," Echeverri, who is known by the alias Timochenko, said at the ceremony. "The peace accord is a victory of the Colombian people and the international community," he added.
“This process really began almost six years ago,” Santos told the media Sunday. “The first contact took place in December 2010. Then the first direct contact was in March 2011. From here on we were engaged in a difficult negotiation, but never losing sight of the clear objective.”
Despite the positive atmosphere and fanfare taking place at the Cartagena’s Convention Center where the accord was signed, former president and outspoken opponent to the agreement, Sen. Alvaro Uribe, was amongst approximately 2,000 protestors in the city making their voices heard.
“We are here to say no to the terrorists, no to this bad agreement, no to this signing,” Uribe told his followers.
Santos was unfazed by the protest. "Every peace agreement is imperfect and this is the best possible. I prefer an imperfect accord which saves lives to a perfect war which continues sowing death and pain in our country," he said.
All eyes are now on an Oct. 2 plebiscite vote in which Colombians will have to decide whether to approve the peace accords. The government needs 13 percent or 4.5 million votes in order to pass. The most recent poll published Monday shows 65 percent of Colombians will approve the peace agreement.
With the deal, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) becomes a political group and its 8,000 combatants have started moving to zones of concentration across the country where they have 180 days to disarm in the presence of UN observers.
"Let no one be in doubt that we are entering politics without arms," Timochenko said. "Reconciliation is the right path for Colombia."
The FARC announced the foundation congress of its new political party will take place next March. During the group’s final conference as a guerrilla organization Aug. 17-23 in southern Colombia, members voted unanimously in favor of the peace agreement and now will be removed from the list of terrorist groups by the European Union. The State Department lists the FARC as a terror organization.
“[The] Final Agreement has a great potential to open a political transition towards the transformation of the Colombian society, for its real democratization and materialization of its rights, especially the rights and well-being of humbles women and men in the city and country, the working class and the communities,” the group said in its newsletter.
Colombia’s second guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) with 2,500 members, has promised to cease all acts of aggression during the plebiscite vote scheduled for Sunday.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.