Colombia’s congress ratified a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas on Wednesday, two months after a majority of voters downed the first accord in a referendum.
The new version contains 50 changes to the original deal, including a provision by which the rebels agree to forfeit assets to victims’ families, and another that prohibits foreign judges from ruling on crimes allegedly committed by either rebels or the government, according to the Associated Press.
The vote brings to a close four years of negotiations and inaugurates a 150-day transition period that will see the FARC move its fighters into protected areas and turn over their weapons to United Nations monitors. It’s a tense period that could pose the greatest challenge yet in Colombia’s still-uncertain path to peace, putting to the test the slow legitimization of a widely reviled guerrilla force – and by extension, the broadening of the country’s political spectrum.
“A new era begins tomorrow,” said president Juan Manuel Santos after the vote, according to Colombia’s El Pais. “D-Day begins tomorrow. That means in five days, the movement of all FARC members to transition zones will begin.”
By Dec. 30, he added, all members of the FARC must be in those zones. Under the terms of the accord, the rebels will hand over 30 percent of their arms to the UN by Jan. 30 and 60 percent by the end of February, completing the disarmament by the end of March, according to Colombia Reports. The weapons will be held in UN containers and eventually be used to create monuments to peace.
There are already signs that the peace could be imperiled, with five leftist activists killed and several others attacked in the days around the new accord’s signing, in an echo of the right-wing militia violence that derailed Colombia’s last attempt at peace, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Joe Parkin Daniel reported on Nov. 28:
In the past 10 days, five activists have been killed and a number of others attacked in separate incidents. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but authorities suspect the attacks are being carried out by criminal groups that formed in the wake of the demobilization of right-wing militias nearly a decade ago.
On Friday morning, a social leader was killed in Neiva, a city southwest of Bogotá, following another killed on Wednesday in the port city Buenaventura. The weekend before, three other activists were gunned down: Erney Monroy and Didier Rosada Barreto, members of a peasant environmental organization, in San Vicente del Caguán; and Rodrigo Cabrera, a victims group leader, in Nariño, near the Ecuadorian border.
A handful of other leaders were attacked but survived.
The accord passed unanimously in both chambers on Wednesday after opponents led by former president Álvaro Uribe walked out, in protest of a provision that allows former FARC leaders to avoid prison for war crimes. Mr. Uribe, the face of a successful campaign against the original accord, had managed to get several of his demands into the reformulated version, but the amnesty for rebel leaders remained a sticking point: In a speech before the senate, he denounced it as offering “total impunity” to the rebels.
The congressional vote also represents the government’s rejection of the referendum as a political tool, after low voter turnout and Mr. Uribe’s energized opposition contributed to the stunning loss in September.