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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Colombia peace agreement sets stage for Canadian Peacekeepers

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s largest rebel movement, signed a historic peace accord Monday night ending 50 years of war….and perhaps paving the way for Canadian peacekeepers to undertake a mission in that country.

The Liberal government is considering whether to send unarmed observers to help monitor the agreement. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office confirmed last week to the Canadian Press that Colombia is one of the options being considered as the government decides where to deploy upwards of 600 Canadian peacekeepers.

Canadian representatives have been in contact with the UN looking for more information about the observer mission in Colombia, including potential security hazards, the Canadian Press noted in its report.

Colombians are to vote on the peace agreement in a plebiscite on Oct. 2. If all goes as expected, the United Nations will begin deploying 450 unarmed observers to around 40 locations around Colombia soon after to begin monitoring implementation of the agreement, CP pointed out. The one-year monitoring mission would involve ensuring both sides adhere to the peace deal as FARC forces turn over their weapons and begin the process of reintegration into Colombian society, it added.

Below is the Associated Press article on the peace agreement in Colombia:

Underlining the importance of the deal, President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londono, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed the 297-page agreement before a crowd of 2,500 foreign dignitaries and special guests, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Many in the audience had tears in their eyes, and shouts rose urging Santos and Londono to “Hug, hug, hug!” But in the end, the two men just clasped hands and the rebel commander, also known as Timochenko, put on a pin shaped like a white dove that Santos has been wearing on his lapel for years. Seconds later five jets buzzed overhead in formation trailing smoke in the colours of Colombia’s flag.

During a minute of silence for the war’s victims, 50 white flags were raised. Everyone at the event wore white as a symbol of peace.

Santos proclaimed after the signing that the accord will help Colombia to stop the killing, to end the deaths of young people, the innocent, soldiers and rebels alike. He led the crowd in chants of “No more war! No more war! No more war!” and he urged Colombians to vote to accept the accord in the Oct. 2 national referendum that will determine if it takes effect.

Londono called Santos “a courageous partner” in reaching the peace deal through four hard years of negotiations, calling the accord “a victory for Colombian society and the international community.”

He also praised FARC’s fighters as heroes of the downtrodden in the struggle for social justice, but repeated the movement’s request for forgiveness for the war. “I apologize … for all the pain that we have caused,” he said.

The signing was greeted by wild cheers by about 1,000 FARC rebels in Sabanas del Yari, where the group recently concluded its last congress by endorsing the peace deal. “Yes, we can; yes, we can; yes, we can,” they shouted, followed by calls for Timochenko to be president.

“Let no one doubt that we are going into politics without weapons,” Londono said in his speech after the signing. “We are going to comply (with the accord) and we hope that the government complies,” he added.

Earlier in the day, Santos and foreign dignitaries attended a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, at a baroque church named for St. Peter Claver, a 17th century Jesuit priest revered as the “slave of slaves” for his role aiding tens of thousands of African slaves brought to the New World as chattel.

In a stirring homily, Pope Francis’ envoy praised Colombians for overcoming the pain of the bloody conflict to find common ground with the rebels.

“All of us here today are conscious of the fact we’re at the end of a negotiation, but also the beginning of a still open process of change that requires the contribution and respect of all Colombians,” the cardinal said.

Across the country Colombians marked the occasion with a host of activities, from peace concerts by top-name artists to a street party in the capital, Bogota, where the signing ceremony was to be broadcast live on a giant screen. It was also celebrated by hundreds of guerrillas gathered in a remote region of southern Colombia where last week top commanders ratified the accord in what they said would be their last conference as a guerrilla army.

Colombians will have the final say on endorsing or rejecting the accord in the Oct. 2 referendum. Opinion polls point to an almost-certain victory for the “yes” vote, but some analysts warn that a closer-than-expected finish or low voter turnout could bode poorly for the tough task the country faces in implementing the ambitious accord.

Among the biggest challenges will be judging the war crimes of guerrillas as well as state actors. Under terms of the accord, rebels who lay down their weapons and confess their abuses will be spared jail time and be allowed to provide reparations to their victims by carrying out development work in areas hard hit by the conflict.

That has angered some victims and conservative opponents of Santos, a few hundred of whom took to the streets Monday to protest what they consider the government’s excessive leniency toward guerrilla leaders responsible for scores of atrocities in a conflict fueled by the country’s cocaine trade.

To shouts of “Santos is a coward!” former President Alvaro Uribe, the architect of the decade-long, U.S.-backed military offensive that forced the FARC to the negotiating table, said the peace deal puts Colombia on the path to becoming a leftist dictatorship in the mould of Cuba or Venezuela — two countries that along with Norway played a vital role sponsoring the four-year-long talks.

“The democratic world would never allow bin Laden or those belonging to ISIL to become president, so why does Colombia have to allow the election of the terrorists who’ve kidnapped 11,700 children or raped 6,800 women?” he told protesters gathered in a working-class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cartagena.

The stiff domestic opposition contrasts with widespread acclaim abroad for the accord — a rare example in a war-torn world of what can be achieved through dialogue. On Monday, European Union foreign policy co-ordinator Federica Mogherini said that with the signing of the peace agreement, the EU would suspend the FARC from its list of terrorist organizations.

Asked whether the U.S. would follow suit, Kerry was less willing to commit but expressed a possible openness to similar action.

“We clearly are ready to review and make judgments as the facts come in,” he told reporters. “We don’t want to leave people on the list if they don’t belong.”