Colombia government, rebels agree to full ceasefire

AFP , Wednesday 22 Jun 2016

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and the head of the FARC guerrillas Timoleon Jimenez, aka Timochenko (R), shake hands as Cuban President Raul Castro (C) holds their hands during a meeting in Havana on September 23, 2015 (Photo: AFP)

Colombia's government and the FARC guerrilla group reached agreement Wednesday on a definitive ceasefire in Latin America's longest civil war, they said in a joint statement.

"The national government and FARC delegations inform the public that we have successfully reached an agreement for a definitive bilateral ceasefire and end to hostilities," the statement said.

The announcement heralds an end to a half-century conflict that has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed in the jungles of the major cocaine-producing country.

The deal would all but end the conflict by resolving one of the final points at peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's biggest rebel group.

FARC commander Carlos Lozada tweeted: "On Thursday, June 23, we will announce the last day of the war."

The means of implementation of the final peace deal remain to be settled.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said this week he hopes to seal a full peace deal by July 20.

The Colombian conflict started as a rural uprising in the 1960s.

It has drawn in various leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs over the decades in this South American state of 49 million people.

It has left 260,000 people dead, 45,000 missing and nearly seven million displaced, according to official figures.

Human rights groups say atrocities have been committed on all sides. Many families are still searching for missing loved ones.

Santos's government wants a referendum to put the seal of popular approval on its peace effort. But it faces resistance from some political rivals.

To hold a plebiscite, it needs the country's constitutional judges to approve a law already passed in Congress.

Peace talks have been underway in Havana since 2012. They got a boost when the FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire a year ago.

The Marxist guerrilla group agreed to remove child soldiers from its ranks as part of the peace deal.

According to government figures, authorities have taken some 6,000 children from illegal armed groups over the past 17 years, more than half of them from the FARC.

The questions of disarmament and justice for victims make the road to peace and reconciliation a hard one.

The sides are discussing designating zones where the FARC's estimated 7,000 remaining fighters can gather for a UN-supervised demobilization process.

Santos and the country's second-biggest rebel group, the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), have also said they will start peace talks.

That initiative has stumbled due to alleged kidnappings by the group.

Last month the ELN freed a prominent Spanish-Colombian journalist and two local TV reporters after holding them for days.

The FARC had urged the ELN to release them -- a rare gesture of FARC support for the government over the sensitive issue of kidnappings.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini visited Bogota in May to show support for a deal.

She said the bloc would contribute a new package of some 640 million dollars to support the transition to peace.

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