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After Five Decades of War, Colombia, FARC Rebels Signs Historic Peace Accord

Colombia's government and the country's largest rebel movement have signed a historic peace accord ending a half-century of bloody combat.

President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londono, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), signed the 297-page agreement before a crowd of 2,500 foreign dignitaries and special guests in the Caribbean city of Cartagena.

Monday's deal must still be ratified in an Oct. 2 referendum. If it passes, as is widely expected, the rebels will turn over their weapons to United Nations-sponsored observers in the next six months while forming a political party. The FARC will be guaranteed a minimum 10 seats in congress over the next two legislative periods.

Image: COLOMBIA-PEACE-GUERRILLA-CONFERENCE
Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia attend the opening ceremony of the five-day gathering, Sept. 17. LUIS ACOSTA / AFP - Getty Images

The peace accord is the product of four years of tough negotiations that aim to end the South American nation's five-decade conflict. The fighting killed more than 220,000 people and drove 8 million from their homes.

Related: Colombia: Permanent Cease-Fire Takes Effect

White flags flapped in the central courtyard and most attendees were dressed in white, as a symbol of peace. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Latin American leaders were among those to witness the signing.

Former guerrilla Leon Valencia said he's excited about the impending signing. In his words, "It's like when you're waiting for a child that is finally born, or seeing an old love or when your favorite team scores a goal."

But opponents have criticized the deal for sparing guerrilla leaders jail time if they confess to war crimes.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini says the bloc will remove the guerrilla group from its list of terror groups in a gesture of support for the peace process.

That will open the door for Colombia to receive $600 million in EU aid for post-conflict refunding. The FARC has been on the EU terror list since 2002.

Related: Columbia to Sign Peace Accord After 5 Decades of Violence

Mogherini said Monday that Brussels has accompanied Colombians through the four years of talks in Havana that led to the peace deal being signed Monday.

Guerrillas in the southern plains of Colombia are eagerly anticipating the signing of a historic peace accord.

"Paula" is the nom de guerre of a 32-year-old rebel who has spent the last 18 years of her life with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

She said the peace deal means she no longer has to worry about being killed by a bomb or while facing the enemy on the battlefield.

"It is my rebirth," she said. "It's like a dream."

The South American nation's five-decade conflict, partly fueled by the cocaine trade, has killed more than 220,000 people and driven 8 million from their homes.