Colombian government signs new peace deal with Farc rebels | Colombia

The Colombian government and left-wing rebels said they would sign a modified peace deal on Thursday despite strong resistance from former President Alvaro Uribe.

The signing ceremony promises to be more subdued than the heavily symbolic one that several heads of state attended in September in the colonial city of Cartagena.

Reflecting the darker mood in the country after the initial deal was narrowly rejected by voters in a referendum, it will be held at the small Colon Theater in downtown Bogota.

The decision to sign the agreement and submit it to Congress for approval was accepted on Tuesday by government peace negotiators and leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) during a day of closed-door meetings in a heavily guarded Roman Catholic retreat in Bogota.

It followed a seven-hour meeting Monday night in which government negotiators attempted to persuade Uribe and other skeptics to support the deal that would end a half-century of fighting with the Farc.

Since the initial deal was defeated at the polls, Farc and government negotiators have worked tirelessly to introduce over 50 changes to make it more palatable to conservative Colombians who overwhelmingly despise the Farc.

Uribe, an ever-popular figure who has led opposition to the peace agreement, said on Tuesday that the changes are cosmetic and that the agreement, if implemented, poses a risk to Colombian democracy because it does not go far enough in punishing rebels who committed atrocities.

He requested a meeting with Farc management to discuss his concerns, a meeting that seemed unlikely.

“Uribe ruled badly, corrupted and bled Colombia for eight years and never wanted peace. He wanted to defeat the Farc, but he could not, ”wrote Commander Pablo Catatumbo, one of the rebel commanders in Bogota, on his Twitter account.

President Juan Manuel Santos has made it clear that there is no more room for negotiation. In a joint government-Farc statement on Tuesday, negotiators said they were still working on the procedures that would be used for ratification in Congress, where the governing coalition has a solid majority.

Uribe had pushed for another referendum, which he said he was convinced would vote against the deal again.

The stalemate comes amid fears that a delicate ceasefire could crumble unless implementation begins soon. Last week, two suspected FARC fighters were killed in action with security forces in a puzzling incident currently under review by United Nations observers.

The FARC is also angry at the killings of several land reform activists and human rights defenders, three in the past weekend alone. Santos called a meeting on Tuesday with senior officials and the United Nations human rights envoy to Colombia to discuss the killings.

The recent killings “are tangible and dramatic evidence of the risks and uncertainty that exist around the implementation of the peace agreement,” Santos said after the meeting.

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