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Colombia Close to a Peace Accord With FARC Rebels
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and the leader of the country's largest rebel group said Wednesday that they were close to completing a peace deal to end Latin America's longest-running guerrilla war, announcing that they had reached breakthroughs on some of the most difficult issues dividing the two sides.
"We are adversaries, on different sides, but today we advance in the same direction, the direction of peace," Mr. Santos said at a news conference in Havana.
The president and the guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, set a six-month deadline to sign a final agreement and the guerrillas agreed to begin handing over their weapons 60 days after a deal is signed.
In announcing his surprise trip to Havana on Wednesday, where the negotiations have been taking place for nearly three years, Mr. Santos said on his Twitter account, "Peace is near."
The FARC posted photos on Twitter of its top commander, Rodrigo Londoño, also known as Timochenko, meeting with members of his negotiating team in Havana, with the message, "Peace has arrived."
Mr. Santos and Mr. Londoño shook hands at the Havana news conference, encouraged by President Raúl Castro of Cuba.
The latest movement in the talks involved three central elements that had long frustrated negotiators: the transfer of weapons; how FARC members and government military personnel will be punished for human rights violations committed during the war; and the deadline to complete the deal.
The first step came about a week ago, when negotiators finally agreed on punishment, according to a person familiar with the talks. The FARC had long insisted that its leaders should not be punished, while Mr. Santos had said he would not accept a deal that included immunity for human rights violators.
The final deal is a compromise, in which those who confess to major violations of human rights or war crimes would receive punishments of up to eight years, according to two people familiar with the talks. The consequences would involve community service or labor that helps the victims of the war. They could also be subject to some limited form of detention, but it was not immediately clear what that would entail.
The guerrillas would be obligated to confess their crimes to a truth commission, and failure to make full disclosure could result in more severe punishments.
A day before flying to Havana, Mr. Santos had tried to manage expectations, warning that many people would not be satisfied with the level of punishment.
"Not everyone is going to be happy but I'm certain that in the long run it will be for the best," he said Tuesday in Bogotá, Colombia's capital. "No one can be completely happy but the change is going to be very positive."
Detractors of the peace process 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. Critics of the government have warned that atrocities committed by the military would be overlooked as well.
The agreement on issues of justice, which would apply to both sides, had long been a logjam. Once that part of the deal was in place, the FARC agreed to begin handing over weapons 60 days after a final accord is signed, according to the person familiar with the talks.
Then on Tuesday night, both sides agreed to set the six-month deadline to sign the final agreement, setting the stage for Wednesday's announcement.
Still, there are many details to work out, including how the weapons surrender will take place, where weapons will be kept, who will monitor it, as well as aspects of the justice process.
There also remains the question of whether a final deal will be submitted to voters for approval.
The two sides have come further than ever before. The government and the FARC had tried three previous times to reach a peace deal, but each effort failed.
"This breaks the back of the war," said Bernard Aronson, a special envoy from the United States. "These are the most important breakthroughs since negotiations began."
Negotiators have already reached preliminary agreements on other aspects of the deal, including rural development, how former guerrillas will participate in the political process and how to combat drug trafficking.
The government estimates that 220,000 people have died during more than 50 years of war between its troops, guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitary groups. Millions of people have been driven from their homes by the violence.
[Source: By William Neuman, The New York Times, La Habana, 23Sep15]
DDHH en Colombia
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