Colombia's FARC rebels have convened a final conference to approve a peace agreement and chart a political future. Colombians will vote in a referendum on the historic accord on October 2.
Colombia's Marxist FARC rebel group convened its last wartime conference on Saturday as it looks to transition to a political movement as part of an historic peace agreement to end 52 years of conflict.
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) representatives are expected to ratify the agreement with the government at the weeklong conference, held deep in guerilla-controlled territory several hours by road from the nearest town.
FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, also known as Timochenko, told several hundred mostly unarmed guerillas who traveled from jungle hideouts that they would continue to fight for social justice as a political party.
"If our adversaries want to think they won the war, that's up to them," Timochenko said in his inaugural address to the congress, which for the first time was open to journalists. "For the FARC, our biggest satisfaction will always be that peace has won."
The 10th congress, the last as an armed force, is expected to chart a course for a new political movement, determine who will represent FARC in Colombia's congress and address strategy and implementation of the peace terms.
Timochenko and President Juan Manuel Santos are slated to sign the deal on September 26. Then on October 2, Colombians will vote in a referendum to reject or accept the deal, which took nearly four years of negotiations in Cuba to reach.
The accord envisions FARC demobilizing of some 7,500 guerillas under UN supervision.
FARC's yet-to-be-named political movement will be guaranteed five seats in both the lower house and senate.
Another 16 seats will be reserved for activists in rural areas neglected by the state. Existing political parties will be banned from these areas.
Both arrangements will last until 2026, at which point FARC's political movement will have to prove its strength through the ballot box without the set allotment of seats.
The deal also addresses land reform, cooperation against drug trafficking, compensation for victims and transitional justice system for crimes committed during the conflict.
The deal does not include a smaller leftist group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).
Latin America's longest running conflict has drawn in the FARC, leftist groups, right-wing paramilitaries, government forces, drug traffickers and the United States.
The conflict has claimed more than 250,000 lives, left 45,000 missing and displaced nearly seven million people.
cw/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)