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Colombia Pushes for Quick Vote on Peace Deal with FARC

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos is pushing for peace between his government and rebel forces to end the 52-year conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 victims and displaced more than 5 million.

Santos announced on television that his government and the Marxist rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia were working out the final details of a ceasefire and peace deal Wednesday evening in Havana.

Santos has planned a plebiscite — a vote of an entire country's electorate — for October 2, which will ask Colombia's citizens if they accept or reject the peace deal.

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"Colombians: the decision is in your hands," Santos said in a televised address. "Never before have our citizens had within their reach the key to their future."

Just prior to the announcement, President Raul Castro handed the final agreement to Santos and Timoleon Jimenez, commander of the FARC-EP. The guarantors, Rodolfo Benitez of Cuba and Dag Nylander of Norward, read the communiqué, which requires rebels to surrender their weapons and for both parties to assure security and peace.

All of the details of the referendum will be released Thursday after Colombia's Congress reads it. According to the Associated Press, the Congress does not have the power to block the plebiscite.

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"We've won the most beautiful of all battles: the peace of Colombia," the chief FARC negotiator, known by the nom de guerre of Ivan Marquez, said at the announcement in Havana.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that the peace deal marks the end of an era of war, it is the first step in ensuring lasting peace. U.S. tanks and army supplies helped Colombia's government thin the population of the rebel troops; about 50 percent of the rebel forces died in battle in 2016.

"Yet just as the United States has been Colombia's partner in a time of war, we will be Colombia's partner in waging peace," the statement read. "It is in this spirit that I stood alongside President Santos earlier this year and announced a new chapter in our relationship, Peace Colombia, which will provide a framework to reinforce security gains, reintegrate former combatants into society and extend opportunity and the rule of law."

In 2014, Santos was reelected to a second term as Colombia's President, after he continually promised in his campaign that he would continue peace talks with FARC to end over a half-century of war.

For years the peace talks between Santos and FARC leaders in Havana had been divisive. Santos' opponent in 2014 Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and his supporters were anxious that the rebel leaders would gain political power in Colombia without facing repercussions for their crimes in the war.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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