CARTAGENA, Colombia, Sept. 26 (UPI) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and left-wing FARC rebel leader Timoleon Jimenez signed a historic peace agreement on Monday to end more than a half-century of civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands.
Santos and his administration met with Jimenez in Cartagena to sign the accord, which seeks to end the 52-year conflict. Thousands attended the signing, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and many guests wore white to symbolize the new peace agreement.
The leaders used pens made from bullets to sign the deal. Each had inscribed on the side, “Bullets wrote our past. Education, our future.”
On Sunday, Colombian citizens will vote in an Oct. 2 referendum to approve or reject the deal. They are expected to approve it.
“From here, we will open the door of tomorrow! Colombia full of hope is ready to sign the agreement to peace and build a new country,” Santos said in a statement from Cartagena.
Peace talks have taken place between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in Cuba since 2012. Earlier this year, the sides were able to overcome the most contentious aspect of the peace negotiations: the disarmament of the 7,000-strong guerrilla group and details over the transition of its members into civilian life. In the early 2000s, about 17,000 militants fought for the FARC.
The FARC has gradually complied with peace agreement conditions, such as the release of child soldiers.
Some critics, including former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, believe Santos’ peace deal with the FARC essentially grant the rebels immunity for crimes.
More than 220,000 people have died and about 5 million have been internally displaced due to the Colombian conflict since the FARC’s founding in 1964. The militant rebel group has been involved in drug-trafficking, kidnapping and other illicit activity to fund its insurgency campaign.
Colombia still faces the threat of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebel group. The Colombian government stalled formal peace talks with the guerilla group that were to begin in May over the issue of kidnappings. The ELN is made up of up to 3,000 members but officials estimate the group’s numbers are decreasing.