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Colombian gov't, FARC ink historic peace deal but challenges remain

The Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla finalized their peace deal after nearly four years of negotiations Wednesday, ending their 50-year conflict.

The accord stipulates the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as an armed organization and will allow them to become a political party or movement in the South American nation.

Other issues like land reforms, victims of the conflict, justice, counter-narcotics strategy, mine clearance and the search for missing persons were also agreed by the parties.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos addressed the nation after the deal was signed here, delivering his promise to end the war this year.

"Today, I speak to you with deep emotion and great happiness. Today marks the end of suffering and pain, the end of the tragedy of war. On Aug. 24, 2016 this national hope has become reality," said a jubilant Santos.

According to the president, the FARC guerrilla will cease to exist and will become a political movement without guns.

He vowed not to grant impunity for those responsible for the worst crimes, either in the FARC or in Colombia's armed forces.

The Colombian government's chief negotiator Humberto De La Calle also said "Today we have reached the goal, signing a final agreement with the FARC is the end of the armed conflict. It proved the way to finish off the war was sitting down to talk about peace. The war is over."

The agreement means the FARC will begin to transform into a legitimate political party, which De La Calle invited to compete equally for the support of the Colombian people, once it completed its responsibilities in the agreement.

"We can proclaim that today ends the war with arms and begins the debate of ideas. We have concluded the most beautiful of all battles, to lay the foundations for peace and coexistence," said the rebels' top envoy to the talks Ivan Marquez.

The peace deal commits Colombia's government to carrying out aggressive land reforms, reorient its anti-narcotics strategy, allow the FARC to become a legitimate political party, and protect demobilized rebels and leftist activists, who have traditionally been targeted by right-wing paramilitary groups.

The next stage of the peace process will come on Oct. 2, when the Colombian people will vote in a plebiscite as to whether to accept or reject the contents of the agreement.

"We must wait until the referendum and let Colombians decide on this great effort both sides have made. We have worked very hard for the peace of our nation," Sergio Jaramillo, Colombia's high commissioner for peace, told Xinhua.

Meanwhile, Judith Simanca, a top negotiator for the guerrilla, told Xinhua that a new road begins after almost four years of talks over issues that added up over 50 years.

"We must build peace in Colombia and this agreement is the starting point of a new society. We have an immense hope in our people," she said.

For Venezuela, an accompanying nation in the process, the agreement sealed many years of tireless efforts by former President Hugo Chavez and incumbent President Nicolas Maduro to contribute towards ending the armed conflict.

"This is a historic day after decades of suffering and death. Peace is now at hand, and this is a lesson for all those that never believed in the talks and wanted to continue the violent war," Roy Chaderton, Venezuela's envoy to the peace talks, told Xinhua.

If the agreement is approved by the Colombian people in a plebiscite it will be presented to Congress for ratification.

According to a recent poll, 67.5 percent of Colombians would vote in favor of the peace deal, with 32.5 percent opposing it.

Nevertheless, the peace process is till facing some challenges.

Leading the opposition, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has regularly lambasted Santos for giving too much away.

One provision of the deal is that any guerrilla fighters or Colombian soldiers confessing to crimes would be spared jail sentences and face amnesty.

This has proved unpopular with a certain section of Colombian society, which fears some may go unpunished for murder.

The conflict in Colombia has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions since 1964.

[Source: By Chris Dalby and Raimundo Urrechaga, Xinhua, Havana, 24Aug16]

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