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Permanent ceasefire in Colombia's civil war begins

Colombian government forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia officially ceased hostilities on Monday, an important step in bringing to an end 52 years of conflict between the two groups.

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    FARC commander, Rodrigo Londono, talks to the press, accompanied by Ivan Marquez (r.), chief negotiator of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and Pablo Catatumbo (l.), chief of the FARC's western bloc, in Havana, Cuba, Sunday.
    Ramon Espinosa/AP
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Another milestone was reached Monday in the efforts to end the longest-running conflict in the Americas, as both parties to the peace negotiations officially ceased hostilities.

The ceasefire between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian authorities brings the vision of peace one step closer to reality, in a country that has seen 52 years of conflict between the two groups.

Endorsement by the Colombian people is still needed, and the smaller National Liberation Army remains at odds with the government, but there is widespread agreement that this peace process stands a far better chance of success than any of the efforts that have gone before. Some are already lauding it as a model for future conflict resolution.

"Never again will parents be burying their sons and daughters killed in the war," said FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, as he announced Sunday evening his group’s intent to implement Monday’s ceasefire. "All rivalries and grudges will remain in the past." The country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, had already made a similar announcement on Friday.

The deal to which the two parties have agreed, contained in a 297-page accord, requires the FARC fighters to hand over their weapons within six months after the agreement is signed. In return for ceasing its armed struggle, the group will be given a minimum of 10 congressional seats for its future political movement – five in the 106-member Colombian Senate and five more in the 166-member House of Representatives – lasting for two legislative periods.

An additional 16 seats will be allocated to grassroots activists in rural areas, with existing political parties banned from fielding competing candidates.

While some critics argue these arrangements will excessively boost the rebels’ post-conflict power, both arrangements will end in 2026; thereafter, everyone will compete on an equal footing at the ballot box.

Almost four years of negotiations have brought Colombia to this point, four years to end a conflict that has stolen 220,000 lives and displaced more than 6 million. Yet the power to approve or reject the peace agreement rests with the Colombian people, set to sound their opinion in a referendum on October 2. While the desire for peace is undeniably strong, with the people weary of more than five decades of war, there is no guarantee of approval.

“Although one is hard-pressed to find a Colombian who wants the conflict to continue,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor’s Whitney Eulich, “many disagree with the way the peace process has progressed.”

In particular, some are dismayed at what they regard as lenient terms for the FARC, facilitating their enrollment in politics and implementing alternative sentencing for crimes. The Americas director of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, described the proposed punishments as “grotesquely insufficient,” saying the international community should not “turn a blind eye to this façade of justice in the name of peace.”

Yet others take a different view, speaking of the peace talks’ innovation as laying something of a foundation for a fresh approach to conflict resolution going forward. In particular, some have highlighted the transformative effect of having both victims and perpetrators involved in the process.

"I don't think there's ever been negotiations where victims were speaking face to face with perpetrators," Kristian Herbolzheimer, a conflict resolution expert with Conciliation Resources, a UK-based peace consultancy, told the Monitor.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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