Sun, Sep 18, 2016 - Page 5 News List

FARC begins conference to vote on peace accord

LANDMARK MEETING:FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez would sign a peace agreement with the Colombian government if the conference approves it as expected

AFP, SAN VICENTE DEL CAGUAN, Colombia

After 52 years of conflict, Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels were yesterday set to open what leaders hope will be their last wartime conference, where they are to vote on a historic peace deal with the government.

The FARC, a Marxist guerrilla group launched in 1964, is to hold its 10th national conference in El Caguan, its Switzerland-sized stronghold, to ratify a peace accord hashed out in about four years of talks.

PEACE INSTEAD OF WAR

The week-long conference marks the first time they would discuss peace instead of war during such an event. If all goes according to the FARC leadership’s plan, it would end with the group’s relaunch as a political party.

The FARC, which has an estimated 7,500 fighters, concluded the peace deal with the government on Aug. 24, followed by a bilateral ceasefire.

The Colombian conflict, which has drawn in other leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and criminal gangs, has killed more than 260,000 people, left 45,000 missing and forced about 7 million to flee their homes.

If the conference approves the peace deal, as expected, FARC leader Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez would sign the agreement with center-right Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday next week in the Caribbean port of Cartagena.

SIX POINTS

The 297-page document comprises six separate deals: justice and reparations for victims of the conflict; land reform; the FARC’s relaunch as a political party; disarmament; fighting the drug trafficking that has fueled the fighting; and implementation of the accord.

Jimenez flew in for the conference this week from Cuba, where the peace talks were held.

Arriving at the conference site in the vast Yari plains, several hours from the town of San Vicente del Caguan, he underscored the event’s importance.

“Everything we are now doing will help us achieve our goals,” he said, stepping off a helicopter provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to the guerrilla media outlet Noticias Nueva Colombia.

About 200 FARC delegates, including 29 members of the general staff and delegates elected by the rank and file, are to vote on the peace deal.

FIRST OPEN MEETING

The conference is set to mark another first: FARC leaders would be meeting not in secret, but with the authorities’ full support in the presence of about 900 people, including 50 guests and about 350 journalists from around the world.

The conference is to take place in a brick building the guerrillas hastily constructed amid tall grass.

The peace agreement must still be approved by Colombian voters in a referendum on Oct. 2 — a step Santos insisted on to ensure the full legitimacy of the process.

Recent opinion polls put the “Yes” vote ahead, though the latest — on released Friday by pollster Datexco — found support had fallen by 9.5 percentage points, to 55.3 percent, since the previous week.

The “No” camp had 38.3 percent, it found.

The government has yet to start talks with a smaller armed group, the National Liberation Army.

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