With less fervor, Colombia takes another stab at peace

Women hug during a rally Thursday in support of the peace process at the main square in downtown Bogota, Colombia. An original accord ending the half-century conflict was rejected by voters in a referendum last month.
Ivan Valencia ~ Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia -- With less fervor and an added dose of uncertainty, Colombia's government Thursday signed another peace accord with the country's largest rebel group --the second in two months.

The simple, hastily organized ceremony in a Bogota theater reflects President Juan Manuel Santos' greater sense of urgency to end hostilities with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia after the original accord, brokered over four years of talks, suffered a defeat in a referendum a week after it was signed in front of heads of state and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Santos, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, tried to project a conciliatory image in the face of the humbling defeat at the polls.

The new, 310-page accord introduces about 50 changes intended to assuage critics led by still-powerful former president Alvaro Uribe. They range from a prohibition on foreign magistrates judging FARC crimes to a commitment from the insurgents to forfeit assets, some of them amassed through drug trafficking, to help compensate their victims.

But FARC wouldn't go along with the opposition's demands for jail sentences for rebel leaders who committed atrocities and stricter limits on their future participation in politics.

In an act of protest, members of Uribe's political party are considering a boycott of next week's scheduled debate in congress on ratifying the agreement, accusing the legislature of disobeying the constitution.

They also are threatening to call for street protests to denounce what they say is a "blow against democracy."

"The government preferred to impose itself in a way that divides Colombians instead of a national pact that would bring us together," Uribe's Democratic Center party said in a statement Wednesday.

The lack of broad support for the accord will make the already-steep challenge of implementing it tougher.

Colombians loathe the FARC for crimes such as kidnappings and drug trafficking.

Ensuring the 8,000-plus fighters don't wind up joining criminal gangs rampant throughout the country or the much-smaller National Liberation Army also will test the state's ability to make its presence felt in traditionally neglected rural areas at a time of financial stress triggered by low oil prices.

There also is a risk peace could trigger more bloodshed, as it did following a previous peace process with the FARC in the 1980s when thousands of former guerrillas, labor activists and communist militants were gunned down by right-wing militias, sometimes in collaboration with state agents.