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article imageColombia marks anniversary of FARC deal as optimism wanes

By AFP     Nov 24, 2017 in World

Colombia on Friday marked a year since the signing of a landmark peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels, which President Juan Manuel Santos said had saved thousands of lives.

Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono returned to the same Bogota theater where they signed the deal a year ago to end Latin America's longest war.

The mood was considerably less festive, however.

Londono, who for years as guerrilla leader went by the name of Timochenko, said the deal had failed to live up to the "immense expectations" it had raised.

"What we are implementing is not the agreement that was signed here a year ago," he said.

He blamed congress, where Santos' government has a weak majority, for failing to implement rural and political reforms that were part of the deal.

He accused it of betraying "the expectations of peoples who were hoping the accord would transform their lives for the better."

Santos and Londono were to meet again later Friday to discuss delays and breaches of the pact.

Santos nonetheless defended the peace process as leading to the "exemplary disarmament" of 7,000 FARC rebels.

"Silencing the guns have saved us lives, thousands of lives, and building peace....does not happen overnight."

"There have been delays, there have been difficulties, we have made mistakes, I have made mistakes, but we are working tirelessly to move forward," said Santos, who will leave office in August after two terms as president.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
Gustavo IZUS, AFP

However, many former fighters are finding it difficult or impossible to return to civilian life, raising the risk they might turn to crime rings, illegal mining or drugs, according to the UN.

The peace accord signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in November 2016 ended a conflict which lasted 53 years.

After agreeing to the peace deal and disarming, the rebels transformed their movement into a political party, keeping the same initials but changing the official name to the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force.

- Work in progress -

"We said we would give land to the peasant farmers in areas where the FARC are. But they want to control who we do and don't give to. Development programs are for rural areas, not for the FARC" to decide, Santos told foreign correspondents in comments marking the anniversary.

The peace deal stipulates that rebels who confess to their crimes, pay reparations to their victims and promise not to return to violence can receive alternatives to jail time for their wrongdoings.

"The far right and the far left are attacking the process, and I said from the beginning that this process would be very difficult," he said of congress, where some factions believe FARC has been treated too leniently.

"What worries me is that people lose hope in peace. But people have very short memories. They forgot how it was before," said Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his push for peace in Colombia.

"Some want to see the glass half-full, others half-empty. In government we see it half full," said Santos.

"The process is irreversible and it will be impossible for the next president, regardless of party, to go back."

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