Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Colombia, FARC to sign peace deal despite Uribe objections

Published:Thursday | November 24, 2016 | 11:00 AM
In this Saturday, October 8, file photo, demonstrators hold hands to support a peace accord between the Colombian government and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, at the main square in Bogota, Colombia.

Colombia's government and leftist rebels say they will sign a modified peace agreement today on Thursday, despite strong resistance from former President Alvaro Uribe.

The signing ceremony promises to be a more subdued event than the heavily symbolic one attended by several heads of state in September in the colonial city of Cartagena. Reflecting the more sombre mood in the country after the original deal was narrowly rejected by voters in a referendum, it will be held at the tiny Colon theatre in downtown Bogota.

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

It followed a seven-hour meeting on Monday night in which government negotiators tried to persuade Uribe and other sceptics to support the accord that would put an end to a half-century of fighting with the FARC

Ever since the original deal's defeat at the polls, the FARC and government negotiators have worked around the clock to introduce over 50 changes to make it more acceptable to conservative Colombians who overwhelmingly despise the FARC

Uribe, a still-popular figure who has led opposition to the peace deal, said on Tuesday that the changes are cosmetic and that the accord, if implemented, represents a risk for Colombia's democracy because it does not go far enough in punishing rebels who committed atrocities.

UNLIKELY ENCOUNTER

He requested a meeting with the FARC leadership to discuss his concerns, an encounter that seemed unlikely.

"Uribe governed badly, corrupted and bled Colombia during eight years and never wanted peace. He wanted to defeat the FARC, but he couldn't," FARC commander Pablo Catatumbo, one of the rebel commanders in Bogota, wrote on his Twitter account.

President Juan Manuel Santos has made 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 government coalition has a solid majority. Uribe had been pushing for another referendum, which he expressed confidence would again vote down the accord.

The stand-off comes amid concerns that a delicate ceasefire could unravel unless implementation begins soon. Last week, two suspected FARC fighters were killed in combat with security forces in a confusing incident now being reviewed by United Nations monitors.

The FARC is also angry over the killings of several land reform activists and human rights defenders, three over the past weekend. Santos on Tuesday convened a meeting with top officials and the UN human-rights envoy in Colombia to discuss the killings.

The recent murders "are palpable, dramatic evidence of the risks and uncertainty that exist around the

implementation of the peace accord", Santos said after the meeting.

- AP