Colombia's FARC rebels have reached a landmark agreement with the government toward eliminating the illegal drug trade and called a weeklong ceasefire, giving a political boost to President Juan Manuel Santos ahead of presidential elections on May 25.
Under the accord announced Friday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, agreed to divorce itself completely from the drug trade.
“The government and FARC recognize that the phenomenon of drug trafficking has nourished the Colombian conflict,” Humberto De La Calle, the government’s chief negotiator at the peace talks, told media gathered in Havana, Cuba. “Both sides confirm their deep commitment to finding a solution to the drug problem.”
It was the latest agreement reached during months of talks in the Cuban capital. The two sides earlier reached accords on agrarian reform and the political participation for the FARC, but none of them will take effect until all items on the agenda for negotiations are settled. The FARC is the Western Hemisphere's last remaining major leftist insurgency, having taken up arms a half century ago.
The deal was announced after Santos, once a clear favorite in next week’s elections, began to falter in public opinion polls. The center-right president's lead has evaporated with the rise of right-wing rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, now tipped to win in two recent surveys if, as expected, the voting goes to a second-round runoff on June 15.
While Santos has staked his political future on the talks, Zuluaga has threatened to end them if he wins.
Friday's agreement puts the two sides one step closer to ending Latin America's longest-running guerrilla war. Rebel and government negotiators meeting in Havana are seeking to end a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people since 1964.
The two sides agreed to co-operate on eradicating illicit drug cultivation through crop substitution, a departure from the forced destruction of coca fields, often by spraying herbicide and with the help of billions of dollars in U.S. antidrug aid. They also reached a deal on the prevention of drug use and a solution to the production and sale of narcotics.
The FARC, which has turned to coca growing to finance its operations, agreed to help convince farmers to plant other crops. The FARC opposes the chemical destruction of coca, and the government promised to spray fields only as a last resort.
De La Calle called the deal a "landmark" and celebrated what he called a "dream," the possibility that the entire country would "work toward the same goal, in this case, a country without illegal crops and without drug trafficking."
In its unilateral ceasefire, the FARC announced it would stop all attacks from the start of May 20 to the end of May 28.
The National Liberation Army (ELN), another leftist guerrilla group, also said it would call a ceasefire during the period. Elections have historically been marred by rebel attacks as the guerrillas sought to intimidate voters.
Al Jazeera and wires