- Title: Military strategist turned peacemaker: Santos heralds in new era for Colombia
- Date: 8th December 2016
- Summary: HAVANA, CUBA (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS AND FARC LEADER RODRIGO 'TIMOCHENKO' LONDONO SHAKING HANDS UPON CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT
- Embargoed: 23rd December 2016 14:22
- Keywords: Juan Manuel Santos peace deal Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels
- Location: BOGOTA, LA MACARENA, VILLAVICENCIO, SANTA MARTA, CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA AND HAVANA, CUBA AND NEW YORK, NEW YORK, USA
- City: BOGOTA, LA MACARENA, VILLAVICENCIO, SANTA MARTA, CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA AND HAVANA, CUBA AND NEW YORK, NEW YORK, USA
- Country: Colombia
- Reuters ID: LVA00B5C1V6MF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL THAT WAS ORIGINALLY 4:3
From military strategist to the man holding an olive branch, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his efforts to end more than five decades of conflict against Marxist FARC rebels.
A former defence minister of ex-President Alvaro Uribe's right-wing administration, Santos had overseen the conservative government's military campaign that largely drove the FARC into remote regions and saw the dramatic rescue of French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt.
Santos' military feats saw Uribe personally recommend his minister to the 2010 presidency. Upon taking the country's leadership, Santos kept up his army-led and U.S.-backed attacks on the FARC that included the killing of the FARC's top leader, Alfonso Cano and its military commander Mono Jojoy.
But halfway through his first four-year term, President Santos staked his reputation and political future on a new round of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
"Exploratory conversations have developed with the FARC in order to find an end to the conflict," announced Santos.
The Colombian president began peace talks with the FARC in 2012 in Havana. Four years later, the two parties reached an accord on five phases of talks to end a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people since it began in 1964.
Both sides had agreed to the creation of special tribunals to try former combatants, and embraced an amnesty that would exclude those who committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, and provide reparations for victims.
Previously, the government and the rebels had reached a partial agreement on cooperating to end the illegal drug trade, in addition to other agreements on land reform and the legal political participation for rebels once they disarm.
But Santos' push for peace isolated former allies including ex-president Alvaro Uribe, who has lambasted the Colombian leader for selling out citizens during the FARC talks.
Addressing his critics, Santos said Colombians faced a stark choice between war and peace with the talks.
"With other people, this peace process wouldn't have the same future. There are candidates that have openly said that they would end the (peace) process, so for this reason I say yes, they are deciding between war and peace," he said.
After launching his peace overtures Santos faced fierce opposition from powerful sectors of the country who believed the only solution was to finish the insurgent military.
Political analyst Ernesto Borda told Reuters that Santos acknowledged a military strategy alone would not bring peace to Colombia.
"I think he is a president who represents the military defeat of the guerrilla but also the recognition that the state has failed to serve the people, particularly in remote regions, precisely where the war has occurred, and that he understands that there should be a peace process to include these guerrillas. And above all else, to those people who have suffered from the effects of the conflict, within the possibilities of development," he said.
In September 2016, Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Lodono warmly shook hands on Colombian soil for the first time and signed their accord from four years of peace talks with a pen made from a bullet casing.
But a vote on the peace deal saw the public narrowly vote it down, with critics arguing it was too soft on bringing FARC members to justice.
However, Santos and the FARC went back to the negotiating table to update the deal to address public concerns.
Last month, the revised deal was approved by Congress, avoiding another vote.
After he was named 2016's Nobel laureate for peace, Santos said the honour of the award goes to the victims of war in Colombia.
"I have infinite gratitude, with all my heart, for this honourable distinction. I don't receive this in my name, but in the name of all Colombians, especially the millions of victims from this conflict we have been suffering for more than 50 years. Colombians, this is for you. It's for the victims, so there's not even one more victim. No one else should die. We should reconcile, come together, to culminate this process and start to construct a stable and lasting peace," said Santos.
The ratification - and signing last week - begins a six-month countdown for the 7,000-strong FARC, which started as a rebellion fighting rural poverty, to abandon weapons and form a political party.
But an end to the war with FARC is unlikely to end violence in Colombia as the lucrative cocaine business has given rise to criminal gangs and traffickers.
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