Colombia announces historic peace deal with rebels to end 50 years of war

Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels sign a final peace deal to end a five decades-long civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead.
(From left) Mr Humberto de la Calle, Ms Mona Froystad, Mr Rodolfo Benitez and Mr Luciano Marin in Havana, Cuba, August 12.
(From left) Mr Humberto de la Calle, Ms Mona Froystad, Mr Rodolfo Benitez and Mr Luciano Marin in Havana, Cuba, August 12.PHOTO: EPA

HAVANA (AFP/REUTERS) - Colombia's government and Farc rebels announced on Wednesday (Aug 24) that they had reached a historic peace accord to end their half-century civil war, the last major armed conflict in the Americas.

After nearly four years of peace talks in Cuba, the two sides said they have successfully concluded negotiations and reached a final deal.

"The Colombian government and the Farc announce that we have reached a final, full and definitive accord... on the end of the conflict and the building of a stable and enduring peace in Colombia," they said in a joint statement read out in Havana.

The peace deal will be put to a national referendum on Oct 2, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Wednesday.

"It will be the most important election of our lives," he said in a national address. "This is a historic and unique opportunity... to leave behind this conflict and dedicate our efforts to building a more secure, safe, equitable, educated country, for all of us, for our children and grandchildren."

Speaking earlier in Colombia, Mr Santos hailed the "historic" news.

Smiling as he spoke of a "very special day", he told a group of children taking part in a government-sponsored art competition called "Paint a Colombia in Peace": "May this country that you are imagining and painting become a reality."

"We have fortunately managed to reach a safe harbour," said the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), Timoleon "Timochenko" Jimenez.

United States President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Mr Santos on Wednesday to congratulate him on finalising details of the agreement, the White House said.

"The President recognised this historic day as a critical juncture in what will be a long process to fully implement a just and lasting peace agreement that can advance security and prosperity for the Colombian people," the White House said in a statement.

Over the past few days, the government and the Farc had been discussing a range of unresolved topics, and worked late into the night on Tuesday to draft a joint statement, sources from the two delegations told AFP in Havana.

Once a peace deal is signed, the Farc will begin moving its fighters from their jungle and mountain hideouts into disarmament camps set up by the United Nations, which is helping to monitor the ceasefire.

The deal must still be endorsed by Colombians in a referendum.

Mr Santos's top rival, former president Alvaro Uribe, is leading the "No" campaign, arguing his successor has given too much away to the Farc.

The war, which began in 1964, is the last major armed conflict in the Americas. It has killed 260,000 people, uprooted 6.8 million and left 45,000 missing.

Along the way, it has drawn in several leftist rebel groups and right-wing paramilitaries. Drug cartels have also fueled the violence in the world's largest cocaine-producing country.

Three previous peace processes with the Farc ended in failure.

But after a major offensive by the army from 2006 to 2009 - led by then defence minister Santos - a weakened Farc agreed to come to the negotiating table.

This time, a final peace accord looks all but certain.

However, the government is still fighting a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), whose ongoing kidnappings have derailed efforts to open peace negotiations.