Colombians celebrate as rebels sign ceasefire with government

Colombians celebrate as rebels sign ceasefire with government
# 24 June 2016 03:42 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels signed a historic ceasefire deal on Thursday, bringing them tantalizingly close to ending Latin America's last major insurgency and sparking scattered celebrations in the Andean nation's capital, APA reports quoting Reuters.

The accord, capping three years of peace talks in Cuba, sets the stage for a final deal to enda conflict born in the 1960s out of frustration with deep socio-economic inequalities and that outlived all other major uprisings in the Americas.

"May this be the last day of the war," said bearded FARC commander Rodrigo Londono, better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, his voice choked with tears after shaking hands with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at a ceremony in Havana.

Santos, 64, is half-way through his second term and has staked his legacy on peace in the face of opposition from sectors of the country who think the FARC should be crushed militarily.

“This means nothing more and nothing less than the end of the FARC as an armed group,” Santos said, adding that the final peace deal would be signed in Colombia. “The children and youth of our country have never known a single day without the violence of the conflict. Neither have the adults.”

In Colombia, even before Santos spoke, church bells pealed at noon to mark the start of the signing. Crowds in Bogota, the capital, gathered around giant TV screens set up in the streets to watch the ceremony unfold.

About 1,000 people gathered in the Plaza Bolivar, near the presidential palace and the city's main square, to celebrate. Some waved flags and balloons, others hugged.

"I’m 76 and have lived this war all my life – I never thought the time would come when these characters would sign peace. I’m so happy – I can die in peace," said Graciela Pataquiva, a retired teacher, crying as she spoke.

Santos' government says a peace deal would add one percentage point annually to economic growth in Colombia, which over the past two decades has turned itself around from a failing state to an emerging market darling.