Representatives of Colombia’s government and leftwing FARC rebels have taken another major step towards reaching a deal to end the world’s longest-running civil war, with an agreement on reparations for victims and the establishment of special tribunals to try former combatants.
The agreement, marked on Tuesday with a ceremony in Havana, helps put peace talks back on track toward reaching a 23 March deadline for a comprehensive plan to end the conflict which has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions since 1964.
“We’ve never been so close to a definitive agreement before,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos wrote on Twitter.
The partial agreement was the result of 18 months of work in which victims of the rebels, government troops and rightwing paramilitary groups participated and offered proposals. Sixty of them gave testimony to peace negotiators in Havana, site of the peace talks for the past three years.
The accord creates a truth commission to clarify what happened in the war and promises to search for thousands of missing people, identify their remains and return them. It also attempts to ensure those affected will not be victimized again.
A group of war victims invited to the ceremony gave a cautious welcome to the agreement. “But it doesn’t mean that we renounce our demand for justice reparations and truth,” said Jineth Bedoya, a journalist who was abducted twice by rightwing paramilitaries.
Luis Mendieta, a retired army general who spent 11 years, 7 months and 13 days as a hostage of FARC, said that the full details of the latest agreement had still not been released. “But if it brings us closer to peace, it is a good thing.”
Alan Jara, who was chained to Mendieta for much of the seven years and seven months that he was in the hands of FARC, said he was shocked to see the person who organised his kidnapping among the FARC delegation. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
“It is the people who haven’t suffered directly the ones who are least willing to accept a peace deal,” says Jara. “We who lived it are more accepting.”
In September, the Colombian government and FARC reached a breakthrough agreement to establish special courts to try former combatants, including guerrillas, government soldiers and members of right-wing paramilitary groups.
While attempting to offer as much amnesty as possible, the courts would reduce sentences for those who admit guilt and exclude from amnesty those responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Judges on the special tribunal will not be chosen by either side of the negotiating table.
Tuesday’s agreement formalizes the new justice system, which has caused consternation in Colombia, where critics complain FARC members might escape punishment or extradition to the United States, where some are wanted on drug-trafficking charges.
“We hope the implementation of these and all of the accords will ensure dignity for the victims, do justice, and lay the foundation for ending the violence of the conflict in our country once and for all,” the two sides said in a joint statement.
Talks will resume in January, taking on the issue of how the rebels will demobilise and decommission their arms. A member of the commission that has been working on the issue said the two sides were “halfway there”.
Source: The Guardian