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Colombia Reaches Deal With FARC Rebels To End 50-Year War


For more than 50 years, Colombia's government has been in conflict with a rebel group known as the FARC. Thousands of people have been killed, millions displaced. Today the two groups met in Cuba to sign a historic cease-fire amid cheers and applause.


SHAPIRO: This agreement comes after the two sides negotiated a tentative cease-fire last year with the help of Pope Francis. Journalist John Otis joins us now from Bogota, Colombia. Hello, there.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. How are you?

SHAPIRO: Well, good. So what was in this agreement that was signed today?

OTIS: Well, basically, it means that the war's over. Both the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas pledge that there's going to be no more combat operations. And the other big announcement was that the FARC guerrillas' 7,000 fighters will start gathering in about two dozen concentration zones around Columbia. And it's from these zones that they're going to begin handing in their weapons to United Nations personnel and then begin their transition to civilian life.

SHAPIRO: It's amazing - we report so often on wars that don't end - to actually talk about a war that as of today has ended. Is it actually as of today? Or - when does this take effect?

OTIS: Well, they still need to sign a final peace treaty, but the thing is they've now done all the heavy lifting. And the final accord is expected to be signed sometime later this summer, and that's when the cease-fire will formally begin. But the reality is that on the ground, there's been almost no fighting in the past year because the FARC has declared this unilateral cease-fire. And the Colombian military stopped bombing rebel camps last year, as well, so it's been one of the most peaceful years in decades.

The disarmament process will also begin as soon as there's this final peace treaty. And once they sign, the guerillas will have six months to turn in their weapons. And then within this process, President Juan Manuel Santos wants to hold a referendum on all of this to let Colombians decide whether or not they approve of this peace deal. And that's expected to take place perhaps in October.

SHAPIRO: Well, what are you seeing there in Colombia? Are people celebrating? Or does the fact that there hasn't been a lot of conflict lately mean this is going relatively unnoticed.

OTIS: No, it's definitely making big headlines. A lot of Colombians are calling today the last day of the war, and it's really been a long time coming. You know, you have to remember this war started way back when Lyndon Johnson was president in the U.S.


OTIS: And it's lasted through 11 Colombian presidents. So now that they're finally disarming, it is a day of celebration. In Bogota today, crowds were gathered around giant screen TVs, watching the signing ceremony, sort of like as if it were the NBA Finals or the World Cup.

SHAPIRO: Amazing. Is there any criticism about what's in this deal?

OTIS: Well, there is, and that's why there's not total euphoria over this. There is a lot of criticism. And that's mainly because in wide sectors of Colombian society, they just don't like the FARC because the FARC, to fund its war, was involved in kidnapping people for ransom, extorting people. They carried out a lot of massacres.

And another sore point is that FARC leaders accused of these war crimes are not going to go to jail. They're not going to have any hard time. Instead, they've set up a kind of transitional justice system where they'll serve a few years in a kind of loose confinement, perhaps out on farms out in the countryside. And that's widely seen as kind of a travesty of justice, even though that was the price for getting the guerrillas to disarm.

And all of this is affecting Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' popularity. A lot of people think he ought to win the Nobel Peace Prize for getting this peace accord, but his actual popularity - his job approval rating here in Colombia's quite low.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter John Otis speaking with us from Bogota, Colombia, on the end of a war that has lasted more than half a century. Thank you very much.

OTIS: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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