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AP Photo/Fernando Vergara
World News

Church welcomes signing of Colombia peace deal

by Antony Bushfield

After half a century of bloodshed, Colombians have embarked on a new path to settle their political differences.

President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londono, top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formally signed the agreement before a crowd of 2,500 foreign dignitaries and special guests, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US secretary of state John Kerry.

Many in the audience, all dressed in white, had tears in their eyes as Mr Santos removed from his lapel a pin shaped like a white dove which he has been wearing for years and handed it over to his former adversary, who fastened it to his own shirt.

The Colombian Catholic Church has played a key role in supporting peace in Colombia, and in ensuring the participation of local communities and victims in the peace talks taking place since October 2012.

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)

Christian charities in the country also welcomed the agreement. Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, Director of Caritas Colombia, said: "We celebrate with great joy the agreement ending the armed confrontation between the Colombian Government and the FARC.

"It is the first fundamental step towards building lasting peace, which will require strong government commitment and full participation and attentive civil society.

"The Catholic Church has accompanied rural communities and human rights defenders closely on this long and painful path and will continue to support peace-building processes to ensure that the atrocities of the past are not repeated, that reconciliation is a reality, and human dignity of all those involved in the conflict is restored."

The deal's first test will be a weekend referendum in which voters are being asked to ratify or reject the deal.

If it passes, as expected, Colombia will move on to the thornier and still uncertain task of reconciliation.

If the accord is accepted by Colombian voters in Sunday's referendum, as polls say it will, the FARC's estimated 7,000 fighters would have to turn over their weapons to a team of United Nations-sponsored observers within six months.

A much tougher challenge will be reconciliation, a process that will require rebels and state agents who want to avoid jail to confess to war crimes committed during a 52-year conflict marred by brutalities on both sides.

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