Colombia’s government and the country’s biggest rebel group have signed a new, modified peace accord following the surprise rejection of an earlier deal by voters in a referendum.
The latest agreement, signed on Saturday in Cuba, aims to address some of the concerns of opponents of the original accord, who said the deal was too lenient on the FARC rebel group, which they allege committed kidnappings and war crimes.
President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed an initial peace deal on September 26 to international fanfare after more than four years of negotiations. But voters rejected it on October 2 by just 55,000 votes, dealing a stunning setback to Santos who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Colombia’s conflict.
“The agreement that was signed in September was, according to studies, one of the best in recent history,” Santos said in a televised address. “But with all humility, I want to recognise that this new agreement is a better agreement.”
“This [new] peace agreement with the FARC takes and reflects the proposals, the ideas, of everyone who participated in this great national dialogue,” Santos added. “It answers and clarifies the concern that many had towards the text, the meaning of the agreement, or its implementation.”
“The new deal is an opportunity to clear up doubts, but above all to unite us,” said government negotiator Humberto de la Calle, who signed the accord along with rebel negotiator Ivan Marquez, moving to end a half-century-long conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and driven almost eight million people from their homes.
“I think we have to remember [that] when the [October 2] plebiscite happened, the accord had been agreed to less than a month earlier,” Virginia Bouvier, senior adviser at United States Institute of Peace, told Al Jazeera.
“There was one month for people to get to know a really complex document of 127 pages. With the outcome of the plebicite [and the rejection of the peace deal], people recognised [that] the opportunity for peace might [have been] lost. People from both sides of the aisle came out, and there is a constant mobilisation calling for a new accord to be reached.”
De la Calle described the text of the modified accord as “much better” than the previous one, but didn’t say if or how it would be submitted again to voters or to Congress.
Some modifications made were related to justice, punishment for combatants accused of war crimes and reparations for the conflict’s victims.
Negotiators had worked out the details of how and where those responsible for crimes would serve their sentences, addressing complaints by opponents that rebels accused of atrocities would not be imprisoned but submitted to “alternative punishments”, according to De la Calle.
Other modifications include requiring the rebels to present an inventory of acquired money and holdings, and the provision of safeguards for private owners and property during reforms carried out in the countryside.
Cases of conflict participants accused of drug trafficking would be dealt with under Colombia’s penal code and be heard by high courts.
The government negotiators in Havana are expected to fly back to Colombia and meet some of the leaders of the “No” camp, who rejected the September peace deal, to address their concerns and provide reassurances about the new agreement.