Ceasefire in Colombia set to end war of half century

BOGOTA • A historic ceasefire looks set to end a 52-year-old war between the Colombian state and the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

Hundreds of thousands of Colombians have died since 1964 as rebel armies and gangs battled in the jungles in what is considered the last major civil armed conflict in Latin America.

Top Farc leader Timoleon Jimenez issued an order on Sunday for its fighters to observe the ceasefire from midnight Colombian time.

On the government side, President Juan Manuel Santos last Thursday ordered the Colombian national armed forces to halt military operations against the Farc.

"We noted with excitement the President's order to the army. Consequently we are proceeding to give the same order to our troops," Mr Jimenez said on Sunday in Cuba, where the peace talks were held.

Mr Santos wrote on Twitter: "The end of the conflict has arrived!" On Oct 2, Colombians will vote in a referendum that Mr Santos hopes will endorse the peace agreement.

The Farc declared a unilateral ceasefire in July last year. But Sunday night's ceasefire is the first in which both sides have committed to a definitive end to the fighting.

Mr Santos and Mr Timochenko are due to sign a final, full peace agreement next month.

The ceasefire and definitive end of hostilities will be followed by a six-month demobilisation process.

The main terms of the deal, hammered out after four years of negotiation, go to the heart of the conflict. The 7,500 rebels will lay down their arms and begin moving into UN-monitored camps where they will disarm over the next 180 days.

The Farc will become a political party. Three former rebels will serve in the Lower House of Congress and three in the Senate in a non-voting capacity; in 2018 they will be guaranteed five full seats in each chamber for two terms, but after that, have to stand on their own.

The territorial and ideological conflict has, over the years, drawn in various left- and right-wing armed groups and gangs.

It has left some 260,000 dead, 45,000 missing and 6.9 million people uprooted from their homes.

Efforts to launch peace talks with a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army, have yet to bear fruit. But with the country's biggest rebel group, the Farc, ordering a definitive ceasefire, the conflict appears to be reaching an end.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Ceasefire in Colombia set to end war of half century'. Print Edition | Subscribe