MESETAS, Colombia – The war that the Colombian government and FARC rebels have waged against each other for more than 50 years is over, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Tuesday at a ceremony to mark the guerrillas’ disarmament.
“Today, June 27, is – for me and I believe for the immense majority of Colombians – a very special day, a day we will never forget: the days when weapons were exchanged for words,” the president said at a rebel demobilization site in the central town of Mesetas.
The voluntary disarmament of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is “the best news for Colombia in the last 50 years,” Santos said.
Colombians are deeply moved to witness “the end of this absurd war that not only lasted more than five decades,” but also left “more than 200,000 compatriots dead,” he said.
“What we Colombians celebrate today is that the arms once raised to fight among ourselves will be guarded and sealed in containers under the care of the United Nations,” the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize said.
The commander of the FARC, Rodrigo Londońo Echeverria, better known as “Timochenko,” likewise emphasized the significance of the day.
“Goodbye to arms, goodbye to war, welcome to peace,” the veteran insurgent said, while adding that demobilization did not mean the end of the FARC as an organization.
“In reality, what we are putting an end to is our 53-year-long armed uprising, as we will continue existing as a movement of a legal and democratic character that will conduct its ideological, political, organizational, and advocacy activity via exclusively legal means, peacefully and without arms,” Timochenko said.
Blaming the start of the conflict to the absence of legal avenues for the left to take part in public life, he said that “peace means political participation will be open to everyone.”
“The tragic experiences of the past cannot be repeated,” Timochenko said, alluding to mass killings in the 1980s and ‘90s of insurgents who laid down their arms.
The leaders of the erstwhile warring sides spoke after the head of the UN Mission in Colombia confirmed that the FARC guerrillas handed over their weapons as required by the November 2016 peace accord.
“We deem that the commitment to laying down individual arms ... has been honored,” Jean Arnault said.
The FARC has turned over a greater number of weapons per combatant than in most other cases of guerrilla demobilizations, the UN official said.
“The ceasefire declared in August 2016 has been respected by both parties,” Arnault said.
In light of the success of the FARC disarmament process, “we can recommend that the United Nations incorporate the lessons of Colombia to apply them in other parts of the world,” Arnault said.