LATIN AMERICA

Colombian government set to sign new peace deal with FARC

Accord with guerrilla group to be submitted to Congress for approval after failure of October plebiscite

The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are to sign a new peace deal on Thursday. The signing of the new accord, designed to end a 50-year conflict, comes less than two months after Colombians narrowly rejected a previous peace deal in a plebiscite – a result that plunged the country into a situation of uncertainty.

FARC members with Colombian government negotiators Sergio Jaramillo and Humberto de la Calle.
FARC members with Colombian government negotiators Sergio Jaramillo and Humberto de la Calle.Omar Nieto / EFE

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The new deal is to be signed in a low-key ceremony in Bogotá’s Teatro Colón, and will have little of the pomp that marked the September signing of the original deal. It includes many of the revisions proposed by the opponents of the original accord. However, many key points remain unchanged.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said the new peace deal will be submitted to Congress for approval and that there will be no new plebiscite, despite demands for such a vote from opponents of the original peace deal.

The Colombia government fears a return to violence in the country after a spate of killings in recent days

In a televised address, Santos defended his decision not to hold a new referendum, saying this option had been rejected by “an overwhelming majority” of Colombian society and institutions and could “polarize the country in a dangerous manner.”

But the new peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC has failed to win the approval of the “no” camp, headed by former president Álvaro Uribe. Uribe conceded progress has been made with the new deal, but said it was “little more than a touch-up of that [deal] rejected by voters” on October 2.

During the lead-up to the October plebiscite, Uribe criticized the peace deal because it would offer impunity to FARC members who recognized their crimes – a message that tapped into the deep distrust many Colombians feel when it comes to the guerrilla group.

Uribe and Santos – who won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the initial peace deal – have sat down on 10 occasions since the October plebiscite in a bid to thrash out a new agreement. The Colombian government took some 400 revisions to Havana where the negotiations with the FARC took place, with many of these changes incorporated into the new document unveiled on November 13.

But the first meeting between the two sides after the finalization of the new deal highlighted the differences between the camps. Little progress was made in a tense seven-hour meeting.

“Unfortunately, some of the most radical sectors of the ‘no’ group continue to oppose the new accord despite clear and important changes and adjustments. I am truly sorry about this position,” said Santos.

Ex- Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, who opposes a peace deal, says the changes are “a touch-up”

For its part, the ‘no’ camp accused the government of failing to negotiate on major issues. Uribe stated that changes need to be made in terms of sanctions for former FARC guerillas, without specifying what these changes should be.

But Uribe’s comments were not well received by the government, with chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle defending the deal and saying it included many changes brought to the table by opponents of the earlier version.

“It’s time to move forward,” said De la Calle, noting the “fragility of the ceasefire and a worsening in violence.”

Fears that Colombia could descend into the violence of the recent past have been stoked by a spate of killings in recent days of human rights and environmental activists. Two FARC guerillas were also killed in skirmishes with the Colombian army.

“Colombians can’t keep living with uncertainty. The implementation of this new accord as quickly as possible is fundamental in terms of me carrying out the responsibility I have,” said Santos.

English version by George Mills.

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