Final peace agreement in six months: Colombian president

Havana, Sep 24 (IANS) Colombian President Juan Manuel has announced after the conclusion of ongoing negotiations that the government and rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) have agreed to sign a final peace agreement within six months at the latest.

Santos and the top commander of Farc, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri Timochenko, took part in the event on Wednesday in the Cuban capital of Havana where the negotiating teams announced an important accord on transitional justice, EFE news reported.

“As important as fulfilling the rights of the victims is to ensure there are no new victims, that the armed conflict in Colombia is ended definitely,” Santos said.

The president stressed it was not going to be an easy process as there were still some difficult points to be resolved but insisted that both sides have instructions to reach an agreement as soon as possible.

This “final goodbye” to the “longest war in Colombia and the Americas” is being achieved on the basis of a system of justice and respect for the institutional framework, the same principles Pope Francis spoke about during his visit to Cuba, Santos added.

The path towards peace without impunity, he explained, does not mean the creation of an extra-judicial system but quite the opposite, because it seeks to establish a special jurisdiction that will work through “specialised chambers of justice, comprising judges of the highest quality.”

Santos said those who have been a part of the conflict and admitted their crimes will be sentenced to five to eight years in prison, whereas those who fail to accept their responsibility will face up to 20 years in imprisonment.

Santos emphasised the pact is “not directed exclusively at Farc” but at “all those who participated directly or indirectly in the conflict agents of the state and especially members of the security forces.”

In a speech after the signing of the historic agreement and a symbolic handshake with Timochenko, the Colombian president hailed the unprecedented announcement and called it a “great news” for Colombia and the entire world and “a ray of hope for other armed conflicts on the planet.”

“This is the first time a government and an illegal armed group reach a peace agreement, and not as a result of subsequent impositions, and create a system of accountability before a national court for the commission of international crimes and other serious crimes,” he declared.

“We are adversaries, we are on different sides, but today we are moving in the same direction, in the most noble direction a society can take, which is that of peace,” he concluded.

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