Colombia takes big step to peace as rebels lay down guns

The United Nations say that leftist rebels in Colombia have turned over nearly all of their fighters individual weapons as part of a historic peace deal reached with the government a year ago.

The number, however, excluded some arms that were exempted from the deal for transitional security at rebel demobilization camps until August 1.

Santos, who took office in 2010, began secret talks with FARC commanders that led to negotiations in Cuba and a final peace accord late past year.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said FARC's disarmament would create a "peace that allows better education, health, housing and more opportunities for Colombians".

Army soldiers arrive to guard the Mariana Paez demobilization zone, one of many rural camps where FARC rebel fighters are making their transition to civilian life, one day ahead of an event with President Juan Manuel Santos in Buenavista, Colombia, Monday, June 26, 2017. FARC leaders are also committed to implementing with the government a crop substitution plan that will pay peasant farmers to eradicate illegal coca crops in areas the rebel group once dominated.

The accord was at first narrowly rejected by Colombians in a referendum previous year before it was redrafted and pushed through congress.

The conflict drew in leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and state forces.

Santos meanwhile says he wanted to seal a "complete peace" by reaching a deal with the ELN, which has some 1,500 members.

Santos signed an initial peace accord with the FARC on September 26 in an elaborate ceremony attended by several heads of state, but voters rejected the deal a week later in a referendum by a razor-thin margin.

The ELN started talks with the government this year, though it has been blamed for ongoing confrontations with state forces.

Courts: Those accused of crimes in the conflict will go before special courts and could get reduced sentences if they confess.

The FARC and the government have also promised to stamp out the rampant drug production that had fueled the conflict for decades. The FARC has pledged to use its assets to compensate victims.

More than 220,000 people have died and 5 million have been internally displaced due to the Colombian conflict since the FARC's Marxist-inspired founding in 1964.

Politics: The FARC will transform into a political party, with five seats in each chamber of congress granted to it under the accord.

  • Rogelio Becker