Colombia’s Congress has approved an amended peace deal with the country’s Farc rebel group, reviving hopes of a permanent end to Latin America’s longest running civil war just two months after the original pact was narrowly rejected by voters in a referendum.
The House of Representatives unanimously approved the plan — with some opposition members abstaining — a day after the Senate also gave its backing.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who last month was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “resolute efforts” to end the 50-year long conflict, welcomed the “landmark backing” for the accord, which paves the way for guerrilla fighters to lay down their arms and enter the political arena.
“Gratitude to Congress for its historic support of Colombians’ hope for peace,” Mr Santos tweeted after the vote in the lower house.
Over the next few weeks, the Farc rebels will start to leave their jungle camps, moving to a set of preordained sites across the country, where UN inspectors will oversee their disarmament, raising hopes of a permanent end to a war which has claimed 200,000 lives.
Last week the government reached agreement on revised terms with the Marxist group, after opposition politicians called for more clarity over role of the judiciary in trying rebels accused of various offences, including war crimes and drug trafficking. They will now go before a special court, although no prison sentences will be imposed.
The deal also guarantees rebels representation in Congress but forbids them from running in districts in the former conflict zone.
The revised terms include a demand for an inventory of rebel assets — which will be used to compensate victims — and scrapping the idea of including the peace accord as part of the Colombian constitution.
The terms, which run to 310 pages, give the Colombian justice system more oversight over the deal, providing additional assurances to landowners that private property rights are respected. The agreement also reaffirms the government’s authority to use aerial spraying as a technique for eradicating illegal coca — the raw material from which cocaine is made — that has been the mainstay of Farc finances.
Mr Santos will give a speech later on Thursday outlining the next steps in the demobilisation of the Farc.
However, the decision to use the legislative route, rather than risk another referendum to ratify the accord, raises the possibility the deal could provide a rallying point for conservative opponents when the presidential campaign to replace Mr Santos kicks off next year.
Alvaro Uribe, the divisive former president who spearheaded opposition to the original deal, has already dismissed the amended terms as “merely a retouch of the agreement rejected by the citizens”.
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