BOGOTA/HAVANA, (Reuters) – Colombia’s government and leftist FARC rebels said yesterday they had reached agreement on a definitive ceasefire that would end hostilities in the longest-running conflict in the Western Hemisphere.
After more than three years of sometimes fraught negotiations, the agreement at peace talks in Havana marks the penultimate step to ending a war that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions of others.
“We have arrived with success at an agreement on the bilateral and definitive ceasefire and end to hostilities,” both sides said in a statement read to media in the Cuban capital.
The accord will be signed today in Havana by President Juan Manuel Santos and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko.
Cuban President Raul Castro, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will attend the ceremony, the two sides said.
Santos said this week the government and the rebels will complete negotiations by July 20. The ceasefire, which includes terms for the FARC’s demobilization and laying down of arms, does not begin until the final deal is signed.
Half-way through his second term and staking his legacy on a peace deal, the 64-year-old president has said it would add as much as two percentage points annually to economic growth.
But analysts say security improvements over the last dozen years mean Colombia has already reaped the benefits of the so-called ‘peace dividend’. Bancolombia said in a recent report a formal deal will likely only add 0.3 percent growth annually.
The country of 46 million people, once considered a nearly failed state, has attracted investors and tourists back since hardline former President Alvaro Uribe launched a U.S.-backed offensive against rebels in 2002.
Colombia, rich in commodities like oil, coal, gold and coffee, is one of Washington’s closest allies in Latin America and has for decades had market-friendly governments eager to lure foreign capital.
Agreement on virtually all of the items of the peace talks agenda in Cuba has already been reached, including such thorny issues such as land reform and participation by former rebels in Colombia’s political life.
The two sides have not yet agreed on terms for overall implementation of a peace accord and how a national referendum on the deal will be organized, however.
Santos has promised that any final accord would be put to the Colombian people in a plebiscite. He has come under fire in the past week for comments about what he says will be the consequences if the country returns to war.
The FARC called a unilateral ceasefire nearly a year ago and the government responded by halting air strikes on rebel camps. Negotiators missed a self-imposed deadline for signing the final accord in March.
The group of about 8,000 combatants, down from 17,000 in its heyday, is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.
The FARC grew out of a 1960s peasant movement demanding land reform, and has been fighting successive governments ever since. Over the years, it has become heavily involved in the drug trade.