It is the first time he has appeared at the negotiations he set in motion nearly three years ago, which he has staked his presidency on successfully concluding. It was also the first time he had met FARC leader Timoleon 'Timochenko' Jimenez, with whom he shook hands after the deal was signed. Santos said Colombia's government and FARC have reached an agreement to sign a definitive peace deal within six months. Fighters that confess their crimes, compensate victims and promise not to take up arms again will receive up to eight years of restrictions on their liberty in restricted areas still be to determined. Negotiators must still come up with a mechanism for fighters to demobilise, hand over their weapons and provide reparations to their victims. As part of talks in Cuba both sides had already agreed on plans for land reform, political participation for fighters who lay down their weapons and how to jointly combat drug trafficking.
Further cementing expectations of a deal, FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire in July and has been working with Colombia's military on a programme to remove tens of thousands of rebel-planted land mines. But amid the slow, but steady progress, one issue had seemed almost insurmountable: How to compensate victims and punish FARC commanders for human rights abuses in light of international conventions Colombia has signed, and almost unanimous public rejection of the fighters. FARC, whose fighters have thinned to an estimated 6,400 from a peak of 21,000 in 2002, have long insisted they have not committed any crimes and are not abandoning the battlefield only to end up in jail. The group said its fighters will only consent to prison time if leaders of Colombia's military, which has a litany of war crimes to its name, and the nation's political elite are locked up as well.
Columbia’s Half-Century Conflict at a Glance
HOW IT STARTED
The 1948 assassination of populist firebrand Jorge Eliecer Gaitan led to a political bloodletting known as "La Violencia." Tens of thousands died and groups of peasants joined with communists to arm themselves against encroachments by the state. A 1964 military attack on their main encampment led to creation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Though nominally Marxist at its founding, the FARC's ideology has never been well defined. It has sought to make Colombia's conservative oligarchy share power, with land reform a priority in a country where more than 5 million people have been forcibly displaced by far-right militias in the service of wealthy ranchers, businessmen and drug traffickers. The FARC lost popularity over the years as the group began to rely financially on kidnapping, extortion and taxes on cocaine production and illegal gold mining.
Washington's support for the military in the 1980s and '90s helped Colombia defeat the Medellin cocaine cartel. But a drug corruption scandal involving the ascendant Cali cartel weakened the government and the FARC battered the state. In 2000, the U.S. instituted Plan Colombia, dedicating billions to counterdrug and counterinsurgency efforts that helped weaken the FARC and kill several top commanders.
THE CONFLICT AND THE COST
Colombia's conflict has claimed more than 220,000 lives since 1958, most of them civilians. In the past two decades, much of the killings were inflicted by far-right militias that made peace in 2003 with President Alvaro Uribe's government. The FARC's most prominent victims were kidnapped ranchers, politicians and soldiers, held in jungle prisons for as long as 12 years. Its most famous captives were presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors who were rescued in 2008.
A peace pact with rebels in the mid-1980s collapsed after death squads killed at least 3,000 members of the FARC's political wing. Another effort fell apart in 2002 after the rebels hijacked an airliner to kidnap a senator. President Juan Manuel Santos renewed talks with the FARC in 2012 in Norway, then in Cuba.
AGREEMENTS SO FAR
The two sides have reached agreements on land reform, political participation of the guerrillas and a joint commitment to combating the drug trade. The most complicated issue has been how to punish war criminals on both sides of the conflict.
Santos says he'll put any peace deal before Colombians in a referendum and Congress must approve it. Another, smaller rebel group known as the ELN was not part of the peace deal but has expressed a desire to end its conflict.