Colombia, FARC to sign peace deal ahead of approval referendum

CARTAGENA, Colombia, Sept. 26 (UPI) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC rebel group are expected to sign a historic peace agreement Monday but the Colombian people will have the final say over whether it is approved.

Santos and his administration are scheduled to meet with rebel leadership in Cartagena to sign the peace deal seeking to end the 52-year conflict. On Sunday, Colombians will vote whether to approve or reject the deal through a popular vote in a referendum.

“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 been taking place between the government and the FARC in Havana, 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 guerilla 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, known officially as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, 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.

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