BOGOTA, Colombia — President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Friday that he will sign a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia later this month in Cartagena.
“This is perhaps the most-important announcement I’ve made in my entire life,” Santos said in a speech, adding that the signing ceremony with the country’s main rebel group will take place Sept. 26 in the Caribbean city.
Last week, Santos’ government and the FARC reached a historic deal bringing to an end 52 years of hostilities by Latin America’s largest insurgency. The agreement must still be endorsed by Colombians, who will vote on the accord in a nationwide referendum Oct. 2.
Santos didn’t provide any details about the ceremony.
The signing of the 297-page agreement will trigger the gradual demobilization of the FARC’s estimated 7,000 fighters. Under the terms of the accord, FARC units must deploy to 28 rural areas across the country where they will turn their weapons over to a United Nations-sponsored mission over a period of six months.
As part of the accord, rebels who confess war crimes will be spared jail time and ordered to carry out community service in areas hard-hit by the conflict. The rebels’ future political movement will also be given 10 seats in congress for two legislative periods lasting until 2026. After that they will have to demonstrate their political strength at the ballot box.
Even in advance of the deal’s final ratification the government and rebels are taking steps to wind down the conflict.
On Friday, negotiators in Havana, Cuba announced that beginning Sept. 10 child soldiers under the age of 15 will begin exiting guerrilla camps. The minors will be handed over to representatives from UNICEF and taken to temporary shelters run by the government. It’s unclear how many child soldiers the FARC has.
The move follows a decision this week by the rebels and the government to declare a definitive ceasefire ending all hostilities in a conflict that has taken 220,000 lives and displaced more than 5 million people.