In Brief

Colombians reject deal to end Farc rebel war

Surprise referendum result risks prolonging armed conflict and plunging country into uncertainty

Farc peace talks breakthrough: The end of the 50-year conflict?

24 September 2015

The Colombian government has signed a historic deal with the Farc rebels in a bid to end one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

In an unexpected move, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and Farc leader Rodrigo Londono, better known as Timoshenko, announced that a final peace deal would be signed within six months.

It's the first major breakthrough since peace talks began in Havana in 2012 in an attempt to end the 50-year old conflict which has claimed more than 200,000 lives and left millions more displaced.

"The time for peace has arrived," said President Santos.

What is the Farc?

The Farc (an acronym that derives from its Spanish name, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) is the country's largest – and arguably most successful – left-wing guerrilla group. It was founded in 1964 with the intention of overthrowing the Colombian government and installing a Marxist regime, the BBC reports. Regarded as a terrorist group by both the US and the European Union, Farc once numbered as many as 16,000 guerrillas but current estimates suggest it's now only half as many. The drop is due in part to high levels of desertion.

Why has so little progress been made?

The peace process has happened alongside an ongoing conflict and there was no ceasefire in place for much of the negotiations. The Colombian government initially refused a ceasefire because the Farc had used previous lulls in fighting to regroup and rearm. Nevertheless, the armed group declared a unilateral ceasefire in December last year, while calling for a bilateral agreement.

Earlier this year, clashes between Farc guerrillas and government soldiers left 11 troops dead, with a further 17 injured. Following the attack, President Santos gave permission for the Colombian air force to recommence a bombing campaign against guerrilla camps. In July, the Farc declared another ceasefire, which is still ongoing.

What agreement had previously been made?

During three years of talks, the government agreed to land reform and the Farc's political participation once the peace talks have ended, while guerrillas promised to end the production and smuggling of cocaine, which is a major source of funding for its fighters.

What was agreed yesterday?

Both sides finally agreed to establish special tribunals that would investigate human rights abuses, punish guerrillas for their involvement and offer compensation to the millions of victims. However, guerrillas who have not committed war crimes and human-rights violations will be protected by a new amnesty law, the BBC reports. President Santos and Timonchenko vowed that a final peace deal would be signed next year, with rebels laying down their weapons within 60 days of its signing. "On 23 March 2016 we will be bidding farewell to the longest-running conflict of the Americas," said Santos.

Does this mean the end of the conflict?

US Secretary of State John Kerry has welcomed the historic agreement saying that peace is now "ever closer" for the Colombian people. But not everyone is satisfied with the deal. "Detractors have hammered at the justice issue, warning that the guerrillas would get off too lightly for atrocities, bombings and kidnappings in a war that has left deep scars," says the New York Times. "Critics of the government have warned that atrocities committed by the military would be overlooked as well."

Alicia, whose brother was killed by the Farc in 2007 told The Guardian: "The government is giving prizes to the aggressors, and we, the victims are left with nothing. They should be made to pay for everything they've done. Isn't that the idea?"

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