Colombian government to implement peace agreement

The Colombian government on Thursday pledged that it would quickly implement a peace deal after Congress approved an amended deal with Marxist rebels two months after voters rejected the original deal in a referendum.

The lower house unanimously approved the new deal on Wednesday evening, a day after the Senate gave its support. “Now we need certainty, action and move on to implementation,” said negotiator and peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo.

Last week, the government reached an agreement on revised terms with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to end a 52-year war, after the opposition demanded changes to the original agreement it saw as too lenient towards the rebels.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in October, hailed the agreement’s “historic support”, paving the way for rebel fighters to lay down their arms and enter the political arena.

“Gratitude to Congress for its historic support for Colombians’ hope for peace,” Santos said after Wednesday’s vote. “Peace has started its irreversible march in Colombia,” tweeted a rebel negotiator known as Iván Marquez.

Some members of the opposition led by former President Álvaro Uribe abstained from voting. Mr Uribe rejected the amended pact and lambasted Mr Santos’ refusal to call another plebiscite.

President Juan Manuel Santos delivers a speech during the second signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARCs. © AFP

“It is sad to escape the popular vote because the government fears pressure from the Farc,” he said. The government has warned that another plebiscite could further divide Colombians and endanger a fragile ceasefire.

“We cannot forget what we are doing,” Mr. Jaramillo said. “We are trying to end a war that has lasted for over 50 years.”

Yet the decision to use the legislative route, rather than risk another vote, raised the possibility that the agreement would provide a unifying platform for Tory challengers in the 2018 presidential elections, hampering an implementation without clashes.

Critics such as Mr Uribe say the new deal is hardly different from the one rejected in the October referendum. Of particular concern is that the participation of rebel leaders in politics has not been altered.

Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, countered that of the 60 proposed changes, 57 were included in the new agreement which aims to end a war that has left more than 250,000 dead.

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - OCTOBER 02: supporters of the

‘No’ supporters gather in a rally following their victory in the referendum on a peace deal to end the war between the Farc and the state on October 2, 2016. © Getty

Mr. Uribe, who is a senator, could pose problems for the implementation of the agreement by fighting, among other things, the tax reform proposals to compensate for the loss of oil revenues following the fall in energy prices, which he opposes, in Congress. The government needs a politically charged overhaul to strengthen public accounts in order to pay for peace and maintain its investment grade credit rating.

In the coming weeks, the estimated 7,000 Farc rebels are expected to leave their camps in the jungle and move to a set of predetermined sites across the country, where UN inspectors will oversee their disarmament.

Farc commanders said they were waiting for a law granting a general amnesty to their fighters before heading to the demobilization areas. By the end of the year, all Farc members should be gathered at such sites.

The risk consultancy firm Eurasia Group has warned that one of the risks of the agreement stems “from a reintegration process which will prove to be extremely difficult and, if it fails, could lead some guerrillas to fall back on illicit activities ”.

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