The final peace accord between Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC rebels will be signed on September 26 in Cartagena, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Friday, as the two sides seek to put half a century of war behind them.
Santos and long-time foe Rodrigo Londono, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, will shake hands and sign the document in the coastal city.
The signing comes ahead of plebiscite on October 2 that will allow the nation to decide whether to accept the agreement reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia after almost four years of negotiations in Havana.
“I want to make an important announcement, maybe the most important announcement of my life. Peace will be signed on September 26,” he said in Cartagena.
Voters will be asked to respond yes or no to a single question: “Do you support the accord that puts an end to armed conflict and constructs a stable and durable nation?”
Santos’s push to negotiate an end to 52 years of war with the FARC was finally concluded last week.
The historic agreement pledged to end a war that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions. Some 7,000 FARC fighters will be incorporated into society and permitted to form a political party.
The 297-page accord has been published so that Colombians can pore over its contents before the vote.
Santos, who has staked his legacy on peace, has launched a campaign to convince Colombians to back the accord. But he faces fierce opposition from powerful sectors of the country who believe the only solution is to finish the FARC militarily.
The deal is opposed by two former Colombian presidents, including popular right-wing hard-liner Alvaro Uribe.
Most opinion polls suggest Colombians will back the deal. But the nation is deeply divided and caught in a heated debate over what sort of justice the rebels should face and how they should be incorporated into society.
Under the deal, the FARC will be given non-voting congressional representation until 2018. From then until 2026 it will be given 10 voting seats whether or not it has electoral support.
The FARC began as a ragtag group of rebels protesting rural injustice. But by the end of the 1990s it had become so powerful – with as many as 17,000 fighters – that it occupied towns surrounding Bogota and was on the verge of entering the capital.