Colombia's government and the FARC rebel group have signed a historic peace accord to end a five-decade war that has killed around 220,000 people. President Santos hailed the agreement as a 'new dawn for Colombia.'
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander Timolean Jimenez sealed the agreement in the northern coastal city of Cartagena on Monday.
The pair signed the 297-page document with a pen made from a bullet casing as the crowd cheered "long live Colombia, long live peace."
"The horrible night of violence that has covered us with its shadow for more than half a century is over," Santos told the more than 2,500 white-clad dignitaries attending the event. "We open our hearts to a new dawn, to a brilliant sun full of possibilities that has appeared in the Colombian sky."
Fifteen Latin American heads of state were at the ceremony, as well the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the pope's special envoy, Pietro Parolin.
A minute of silence was held for the war's victims, while 50 white flags were raised.
"We are being reborn to launch a new era of reconciliation and of building peace," Jimenez said in his speech.
"Let no one doubt that we are going into politics without weapons," he added. "We are going to comply (with the accord) and we hope that the government complies."
End of sanctions?
Shortly before the signing, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini announced that the European Union had temporarily suspended the FARC from its list of terrorist organizations, effectively lifting sanctions against the group.
Asked whether the US would do the same, Kerry said Washington was "willing to review and make judgments as the facts come in."
Colombian citizens will now vote on the peace accord in a referendum on October 2nd. Despite attracting some critics, including the former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, polls suggest that a majority will vote in favor of the accord.
The peace agreement
The agreement stipulates that the FARC's estimated 7,500 fighters must leave their mountain and jungle camps within the next 180 days and disarm under UN supervision. In return, the group will be allowed to relaunch as a political party.
They will also be granted amnesty for "political crimes" committed during the 52-year conflict, which caused more than 220,000 deaths and displaced 8 million people. The worst atrocities, such as massacres, torture and rape will not receive amnesty.
"In the name of the FARC, I sincerely apologize to all the victims of the conflict for any pain we may have caused during this war," Jimenez said during his speech, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
The historic accord also covers justice and reparations for war victims, land reform and combating drug trafficking.
Four years of negotiations
The latest round of peace talks between the government and rebel leaders opened in Havana, Cuba, in 2012. Rebel leader Timochenko proposed the fresh talks with President Santos after a series of major military offensives killed the previous leader, Alfonso Cano, and left the guerilla group significantly weakened.
This was the fourth attempt at securing a peace agreement after previous efforts in 1984, 1991 and 1999 all failed.
Violence between the government and guerilla groups began as early as 1948. The assassination of the populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan that year sparked a violent uprising and led peasant groups to join with communist factions and arm themselves. Following a military attack on the insurgency's main encampment in 1964, the leftist rebel groups formed The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Although widely described as a Marxist rebel group, the FARC's political ideology has never been coherently defined. Its principal causes were loosening the oligarchy's grip on power and forcing land reforms for Colombia's millions of displaced farmers and peasants. However, once the FARC began resorting to violence, kidnapping and illegal gold mining as a source of funding, their popularity suffered.
Fighting intensified by the turn of the century when the FARC became involved in cocaine-trafficking, sparking a drug war. This saw the United States sending billions of dollars to Colombian security forces to fight against FARC rebels and force them out of their hideout.
The peace accord finally brings peace to Colombia and ends the last major armed conflict in the Americas.
dm,nm/rc (AP, AFP)