By Nelson Acosta
HAVANA (Reuters) – Colombia’s government and leftist FARC rebels took another step toward ending more than a half century of conflict on Friday, agreeing on a U.N.-supervised security protocol, timetable and other details for disarming the estimated 9,000 guerillas.
The announcement came after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos signed in June an historic agreement that stated they had reached deals on all major issues and established a de facto ceasefire and the parameters for the rebels to disarm and rejoin civil society.
Under the agreement, FARC troops will gather at 26 locations around the South American country and hand over their arms within six months of a final peace agreement going into effect.
“The FARC will have handed in all their arms to the United Nations within 180 days,” Humberto de la Calle, chief negotiator for the government, told reporters in Havana.
Friday’s agreement stipulated that 50 FARC members would be free to monitor the process nationwide, and another 10 in each of the 26 locations. Under the agreement, the United Nations would have final say on any disputes.
After more than three years of negotiations hosted by Cuba over such thorny issues as land reform, war crimes and drug trafficking, the two sides are close to a final accord that would be put to a referendum vote. If ratified, it would end the longest-running and last significant guerilla conflict in the Western Hemisphere.
“When we finish the agenda points, that is to say, when everything is agreed, that is when we will send the texts to Congress and convene the plebiscite,” Santos said during an event in the Pacific port city of Buenaventura on Thursday.
Santos must win over those skeptical of FARC promises to rejoin civil society, including supporters of hard-line former President Alvaro Uribe, who contends a deal will grant guerrillas impunity for war crimes.
The FARC grew out of a 1960s peasant revolt that exploded into a cocaine-fueled war that has killed at least 220,000 people and displaced millions.
(Additional reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Will Dunham)