Colombia, rebels agree to end longest-running armed conflict in Western Hemisphere

BOGOTA, Aug. 24 (UPI) — The Colombian government and the largest rebel group in the country on Wednesday reached a historic agreement to end the longest running war in the Americas — an extremely bloody battle that killed almost a quarter-million people over more than a half century.

Negotiators from Bogota and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) struck the deal and said it will soon be ratified in Cuba. The accord will end the longest armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere.

FARC announced the deal on its website and Twitter account Wednesday.

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“After a standoff of more than half a century long, the national government and the FARC-EP have agreed definitively end the internal armed conflict way,” the rebel organization stated. “The end of the conflict will open a new chapter in our history.”

The agreement is the result of negotiations that have been held repeatedly over the last four years. Once signed, the pact will end one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in world history, and the last major guerrilla struggle in Latin America.

Earlier Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hinted that major news would come before the end of the day.

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It was Santos’ government that got rebels to the negotiation table. Decimated by years of fighting and government opposition, and further weakened by Colombia’s notoriously bloody drug trade, FARC agreed to a new round of talks in 2012.

Wednesday’s agreement outlines a timeline for FARC rebels to surrender their arms and re-enter society, things that some insurgents haven’t experienced in their entire lifetimes.

The conflict between FARC and the Colombian government began in 1964 and went on to cross decades — a conflict that, all told, killed an estimated 220,000 people and displaced nearly 7 million others. More than 350,000 Colombian civilians, who were often caught in the middle of the bloodshed, fled the country during the fighting.

Colombia’s guerrilla warfare raged hotly during the 1980s, perhaps its bloodiest decade, in the foreground of a ruthless narcotics industry and several other rebel conflicts in nearby countries, like Nicaragua and El Salvador.

As part of the agreement, rebels will be granted amnesty for any and all crimes committed during the conflict — a notion that former President Álvaro Uribe recently said that he opposes. Others presently active in Bogota’s government agree.

“They will spend zero days in prison, they will be awarded with political representation,” Colombian senator Paloma Valencia said, referring to a provision that will allow some of the former FARC rebels to seek political office. “This deal breaks the rule of law.”

The pact is also expected to have a major impact on Colombia’s illicit drug industry. Under the deal, all farmers must destroy their coca plants — the vital source for manufacturing cocaine — as part of an effort to redistribute lands to former FARC rebels and facilitate new industries to create jobs.

Colombian voters still must approve the deal in a national referendum, although they are widely expected to do so — since they re-elected a pro-peace Santos in 2014 over Óscar Iván Zuluaga, an outspoken opponent of a deal with FARC.

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