Colombia takes big step to peace as rebels lay down guns

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visits the upmarket Bogota mall where a bomb blast killed three Raul Arboleda

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visits the upmarket Bogota mall where a bomb blast killed three Raul Arboleda

The U.N. Mission in Colombia said the FARC rebel group has completed the disarmament process as part of a peace agreement with the government.

United Nations monitors said on Monday they had "the entirety of the FARC's registered individual arms stored away", apart from some that were exempted for transitional security at demobilization camps until August 1.

Presidential elections are scheduled for next March and as stipulated in the peace accord signed a year ago, the FARC will receive five seats each in the Senate and Congress, helping to cement the group's evolution from a military to a political force.

A symbolic ceremony marking the end of the historic disarmament process was held on Tuesday and attended by FARC top commander Rodrigo Londono and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a Nobel Prize victor for his role in negotiating the peace with the guerilla group.

Rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, build a stage for the next day's ceremony that will commemorate the completion of the rebels' disarmament process, at the Mariana Paez demobilization zone, one of many rural camps where rebel fighters are making their transition to civilian life, in Buenavista, Colombia, Monday, June 26, 2017. Nonetheless both the FARC and the government say they are making steady progress as the rebels transition to civilian life. FARC leaders are also committed to implementing with the government a crop substitution plan that will pay peasant farmers to eradicate illegal coca crops in areas the rebel group once dominated.

The accord, first signed in November, was initially narrowly rejected by Colombians in a referendum before being redrafted and pushed through congress.

Critics such as conservative political leader Alvaro Uribe said the peace accord was too lenient on FARC members.

The conflict drew in leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and state forces.

All these groups are seeking to occupy territory relinquished by the Farc under the peace deal and take over their drug-trafficking activities.

That excluded some arms that were exempted for transitional security at demobilization camps until August 1. That was blamed on a fringe extremist group, the Revolutionary People's Movement (MRP). The weapons will be melted into iron for three sculptures to commemorate victims. Those who do not face up to 20 years in jail.

Land: Land rights for poor rural communities were at the root of the conflict when it erupted in 1964.

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