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A demonstration in Bogota, Colombia last month. (Photo: Reuters)

A New Era Begins as Colombian Congress Approves FARC Peace Deal

Congressional approval sets into motion 180-day demobilization and disarmament process

Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

The Colombian congress on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a peace deal with leftist rebel group FARC, helping bring to an end a 52-year deadly conflict and setting into motion a 180-day demobilization and disarmament process.

The revised agreement passed the lower house 130-0, though some members of the 166-member chamber walked out in opposition to the deal ahead of the vote. It passed the senate earlier this week. Another version of the deal was rejected in a plebiscite on October 2. The new accord does not require popular approval.

According to USA Today:

The changes require the FARC to be more open about the illicit activities it engaged in to support its resistance, such as drug trafficking and kidnappings for ransom. The new deal also exposes more rebels to criminal prosecution.

But the FARC wouldn't agree to the opposition’s strongest demands—jail sentences for rebel leaders for war crimes and stricter limits on their future participation in politics.

As the New York Times reports:

The Congress's vote brings to a close what had become one of the country's biggest political dramas in decades.

After years of tense talks in Havana, rebel and government negotiators announced in August they had reached a deal to end a half century of war which left more than 200,000 people dead. The next month, the rebels arrived to the port city of Cartagena, where a celebratory signing was held before world leaders and televised to the nation.

Just one piece remained: A popular vote to approve the accord, which polls had shown would be a shoo-in. Instead, it lost by a narrow margin. Then days later, in another twist, Mr. Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In their announcement of the prize, the Norwegian judges acknowledged the referendum's defeat but said they hoped that the prize would "give him strength to succeed in this demanding task."

According to Reuters, the government is now "ready to speed the passage of laws and reforms so it can carry out a peace deal...pending approval from the constitutional court."

FARC rebels "said they would not begin demobilizing until parts of the accord, including an amnesty law for most fighters, are approved by lawmakers," the news agency continued. "The government hopes the court will allow those laws to move ahead more quickly than normal by cutting the number of required debates."

The Associated Press further reports:

Beyond the legal hurdles, there is also concern FARC fighters will wind up joining criminal gangs rampant across Colombia or the much-smaller rebel National Liberation Army, which for months has been playing cat and mouse with the government over opening a peace process of its own. On Wednesday, both sides said they would delay until January any decision about when to start talks.

Combating security threats will test the state's ability to make its presence felt in traditionally neglected rural areas at a time of financial stress triggered by low oil prices.

There is also a risk that peace could trigger more bloodshed, as it did following a previous peace process with the FARC in the 1980s. At that time, thousands of former guerrillas, labor activists, and communist militants were killed by right-wing militias, sometimes in collaboration with state agents.

Worries about new bloodshed, although less prevalent than in the darker days of Colombia's half-century conflict, has become more urgent with more than a dozen human rights defenders and land activists in areas dominated by the FARC being killed by unknown assailants since the initial signing ceremony in September. So far this year, 70 have been killed, according to Bogota-based We Are Defenders, more than in all of 2015 and 2014.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said "[t]he official end to a bloody armed conflict that has lasted for more than 50 years and has left some eight million victims in its wake is an achievement that cannot and should not be underestimated."

"However," she added, "much of the horror Colombians have been forced to endure for decades has often not been directly linked to direct combat between the security forces and the FARC. Those working away from the spotlight, defending rights or protecting natural resources and territories from powerful economic interests continue to face harassment and deadly attacks. So the peace agreement in itself may do little to keep these activists safe. What they need is effective action to ensure those behind such attacks face proper justice."

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