NI sympathy as Colombia rejects deal to put FARC in government

Colombia has rejected a peace deal with the Farc guerillas in a referendum - which some in Northern Ireland say is because it would have spared the rebels jail and guaranteed them ten seats in government.

The referendum on the government backed was narrowly defeated on Sunday by a razor-thin margin of 50.2%, delivering a major shock to the war-torn nation.

President Juan Manuel Santos said: “I won’t give up. I’ll continue search for peace until the last moment of my mandate.”

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The Farc leader known as Timochenko said they were also committed to peace.

“The Farc reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future,” he told the BBC.

Colombians overwhelmingly loathe the Farc, which the US considers a terrorist group.

Many consider provisions in the accord that would spare the rebels jail time an insult to the 220,000 killed and almost eight million displaced by the long-running conflict.

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In the past month the government has spent heavily on television ads, staged concerts and peace rallies around the country to get out the vote.

But turnout was only 38% - a sign to some analysts that Colombians’ enthusiasm for the ambitious accord was lacking.

Farc leaders travelled to areas where it committed massacres twice last week to discuss how they can compensate victims.

In October 2015 Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson MP, SDLP MP Mark Durkan MP and Reverend Harold Good travelled to meet Farc and share lessons from Northern Ireland.

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Mr Durkan said: “This is a deeply disappointing result and particularly frustrating when the parts of Colombia that have suffered most from this conflict voted overwhelmingly in favour of the peace deal.”

But victims campaigner Willie Frazer, who met Farc victims in Colombia several times, said people had suffered too much at the hands of Farc to support the deal.

Farc victims thought Northern Ireland had paid “too high a price” for peace, he said. They believed that justice here had been “forsaken” and that Farc would never change, he said. “That said, they also really wanted to see a peace agreement.”

He suggested that Farc victims be guaranteed the same number of seats in their government as Farc rebels and that any future referendum be required to each 70% threshold to pass.

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TUV leader Jim Allister empathised with any people who “refuse to swallow the suspension of justice and the involvement of terrorists in politics”.

Links between Farc and the IRA are well known, he said, pointing to ‘The Colombia Three’.

“It would appear from this rejected deal that they [Farc] hoped to follow a similar path to Sinn Fein/IRA and present themselves as statesmen.”

Interestingly, he said, Farc offered to surrender assets in to compensate their victims of their terrorism – “something which the perpetrators of the Northern Bank robbery were never required to do, in spite of some comments about the return of ‘ill-gotten gains’”.

Under the rejected agreement;-

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* Special courts would have been created to try crimes committed during the conflict.

* Those who confessed to their crimes would have been given more lenient sentences and would have avoided serving any time in conventional prisons.

* Demobilised Farc rebels would be paid a monthly stipend and those wanting to start a business would get financial help.

But “No” voters said this amounted to a reward for criminal behaviour. Many also said that they simply did not trust the rebels to keep their promise to lay down arms for good, as they had broken their word on this before.

Others said that Farc would be given an unfair electoral advantage under the deal in that it would be guaranteed 10 seats in the Colombian Congress elections in 2018 and 2022.