Colombia Peace Talks Resume in Havana

April 23, 2014

The Colombian government and FARC peace delegations finished their 23rd round of discussions in Havana on April 11, breaking in time for Holy Week.  At the close of the session, they issued a joint statement recognizing that they are “advancing in the discussions and the building of agreements on the three sub points of the agenda.”  (See the statement here.)  They noted, “Both delegations share the view that the definitive solution to this problem must be embedded in the Integrated Rural Reform (the first item of the Framework Agreement) and must be build in a joint manner engaging communities in the design, execution, monitoring, control, and evaluation of the plans.”

Talks resume tomorrow, on Thursday, April 24th, during which time the parties are expected to continue to develop their proposals for addressing the problem of illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking.

Government negotiators Humberto de la Calle and General ® Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel, prepare to depart for Havana peace talks (Photo by Andrés Piscov-SIG, Casa de Nariño, April 23, 2014).

Government negotiators Humberto de la Calle and General ® Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel prepare to depart for Havana peace talks (Photo by Andrés Piscov-SIG, Casa de Nariño, April 23, 2014).

On the eve of their departure to Havana, chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle and General ® Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel, member of the negotiating team, spoke to the press.  De la Calle noted, “We are in the middle of a political campaign and it is my duty to alert the Colombian people about false rumors circulating in the media about what is being discussed in Havana, rumors that have the goal of creating a climate of negative opinion around these conversations and to frighten, yes, frighten Colombians about the path of these dialogues and their consequences for the future of the country.  (Read de la Calle’s statement here.)  De la Calle denied “categorically” what he referred to as unfounded rumors that the size of the Armed Forces and agreements to demilitarize the peasant reserve zones (zonas de reserva campesina) are under discussion in Havana, that President Santos plans to replace General Mora on the negotiating team, and that General Mora would be retiring from the team in protest over a plan to shrink the armed forces.  De la Calle said, “We have an agenda that is known by everyone, and we are sticking to it.  We have neither discussed nor negotiated the reduction of our Military Forces or Police, nor will we in the future, nor will we demilitarize the peasant reserve zones.”

General ® Mora, for his part, echoed De la Calle’s statement, noting that the topic of the armed forces had never been the topic of discussion at the Table in the last year and a half of the peace process.  He called on the men and women of the Armed Forces and the National Police to be “secure and tranquil” about the peace talks, and to have faith in the government’s negotiating team.  (Read Mora’s statement here.)

Elections Pending

In the meantime, election campaigning continues.   Polls concur that there will be no clear majority in the first round of presidential elections scheduled for May 25, and there will almost certainly be a runoff election on June 15.   Polls published in the first week of April by the National Consulting Center (NCC) suggest that in the first round, incumbent  President Juan Manuel Santos is favored to win with 26% to 18% by his closest competitor, Enrique Peñalosa, the candidate of the Green Alliance.  The polls show that about a third of the electorate plans to cast blank ballots–an historically unprecedented trend.  In a second round, the NCC poll suggests that Peñalosa would beat Santos with 46% of the vote to Santos’s 36%.  Polling is always a bit risky, particularly in contexts of historic violence, so these numbers should be read with some caution.  Furthermore, the plunge in apparent support for Santos undoubtedly had to do with the timing of the polling, which took place on the heels of the removal from office of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro–a unpopular move favored by Santos and opposed by Peñalosa.  In a ruling yesterday by a judge of the Superior Tribunal of Bogota, Santos was given 48 hours to reinstate Petro. (See article here.)  The decision is probably not the end of what has been an dramatic unfolding saga with many twists and turns, and it is unclear how this latest decision might affect public sentiment toward the presidential candidates.  With a national strike called for next Monday, a lot can still happen before the May 25 elections.

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Gabriel García Márquez – Discurso Nobel: La soledad de América Latina

Vale la pena leer el discurso dado por Gabriel García Márquez en Estocolmo en 1982:   Gabriel García Márquez – Nobel Lecture: La soledad de America latina.

A good read:  the Nobel Prize for Literature speech given by Gabriel García Márquez in Stockholm in 1982.  Read it here:  Gabriel García Márquez – Nobel Lecture: The Solitude of Latin America.

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Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014): Rest in Peace

20th April 2014

On Thursday, April 17th, President Juan Manuel Santos declared three days of national mourning in observance of the death of Gabriel García Márquez, or “Gabo,” as he is affectionately known.  The entire world mourns with Colombia as we also celebrate his life and legacy.

García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude was the first full-length novel I ever read in Spanish.  Years before my first trip to Latin America or Colombia, and before Gabriel García Márquez was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, I was introduced to Latin America through his writings and those of his contemporaries. I loved the magnificent richness of the unfamiliar words that rolled off my tongue with trills that did not exist in my native English.  I adored the energy, pragmatism, and resilience of Úrsula Iguarán, the matriarch of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the sanity she represented while all around her became enmeshed in the craziness of war.  I was delighted to encounter her later in other stories such as “Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon” (“La prodigiosa trade de Baltazar”), one of my favorite short stories from García Márquez’s  collection, Big Mama’s Funeral (Los funerales de la Mamá Grande).

Like so many readers, I was drawn into the tropical world of Macondo, the fictionalized setting for many of García Márquez’s writings.  Based on his home town of Aracataca on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, Macondo was a place where life was characterized by poverty and solitude, but also by deep and sometimes complicated webs of social relations and family ties across time and space.


Photo courtesy of

In Macondo, the borders between history and memory, like those of life and death, are obscured.  Synecdoche for Colombia and other places that have suffered the ravages of war and repression, Macondo is a place where collective amnesia is a survival strategy and the living and the dead must negotiate a strategy of co-existence.

Writers like García Márquez have been in the vanguard in navigating these difficult waters where history and memory collide.  Their words and stories forge dams against the tides of oblivion.  Remembering, in a context of war, takes imagination and courage.

Contradictions of a Country at War

In his life and writings, García Márquez gave voice to the contradictions of a country at war.  I recall a conversation in One Hundred Years of Solitude between Colonel Aureliano Buendía (the commander who led 32 armed uprisings and lost them all) and Colonel Gerineldo Márquez that drives home the absurdity of war:

–”Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?”

–”What other reason could there be?” Colonel Gerineldo Márquez answered. “For the great Liberal party.”

–”You’re lucky because you know why,” he answered. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve come to realize only just now that I’m fighting because of pride.”

–”That’s bad,” Colonel Gerineldo Márquez said.

Colonel Aureliano Buendía was amused at his alarm. “Naturally,” he said. “But in any case, it’s better than not knowing why you’re fighting.” He looked him in the eyes and added with a smile: “Or fighting, like you, for something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone.”

The realism of war is the backdrop of the story, and it tempers the magic of modernity–represented by ice, daguerrotypes, magnets, and flying carpets–being introduced into Macondo.  As President Santos noted, Gabo’s magical realism expresses the essence of a country that “combines happiness and pain, poetry and conflicts, in which the yellow butterflies cross the paths and beautiful girls named Remedios ascend to heaven amidst the sheets.  A country where everything, above all life, is possible.”

Gabriel García Márquez, noted Santos, “worked with words and ideas.  He gave them wings and made them soar to the heights of the imagination, and he made us believe… that which he dreamed was possible.”

It is ultimately our capacity for imagination and faith that allows hope to triumph over despair, life to conquer death, love to conquer hate, and forgiveness to win out over vengeance.  In the end, it is our exercise of imagination that allows peace to claim victory over war.

In Stockholm, García Márquez spoke to the role of writers and storytellers in this mission when he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1982.  He said, “We, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of … a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”

Peace and the Debt to Gabriel García Márquez

For the past three decades, García Márquez has offered his services to finding solutions to Colombia’s internal armed conflict, to giving Colombia a second chance.  Gabo was a known democrat and leftist with many friends in high places.  He defined himself as a “conspirator for peace” and mediated discreetly between the Colombian government and various guerrilla groups.  “A culture of peace is the only thing that can save us from barbarity,” Gabo once said.

Gabo’s contacts with armed groups sometimes put him at risk.  In 1981, he fled Colombia after being warned by friends and government officials that the army wanted to question him for alleged ties to the 19th of April Movement (M-19).  He never returned to live in his homeland, but traveled there frequently and remained committed to peace.  In 1985, García Márquez helped ex-President Belisario Betancur (1982-1986) to launch a peace process with the FARC, the ELN, the Army of Popular Liberation (EPL) and the M-19; talks with the M-19 were successful.  In January 1999, García Márquez was an invited guest at the inauguration of the peace talks with the FARC in Caguán under the administration of Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002).  Under the government of Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) as well, Gabo offered his good offices in the search for a rapprochement with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which has yet to be consolidated.  “Peace has a debt to pay to Gabriel García Márquez,” said ex-President Betancur this week.

Perhaps the best tribute to the life and memory of Gabriel García Márquez is to let our imaginations soar, seize fast to hope, and to redouble our efforts for peace.  In this way, Gabo may truly Rest in Peace.

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Recap of Peace News as 23rd Cycle Begins

April 4, 2014

The parties resumed their twenty-third round of talks today, Friday, April 4th, after a relatively shorter break than usual.  The last round ended on Sunday, March 30, with a joint communiqué by the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP delegates.  The communiqué attested to substantial advances in the “construction of agreements on different aspects contained in the agenda item on the solution to the problem of illicit drugs,” the third agenda item under discussion at the peace tables and noted that the parties will continue “crafting agreements on these issues in order to conclude, soon, discussion on all of the themes in that agenda item.”  (See joint statement here.)  It was a  relatively quiet round in Havana as the government and FARC teams continued discussions on illicit crops and drugs.

At the beginning of the 22nd round of talks, the FARC had reiterated its call for a truth commission whose goal would be the “clarification of the origins and truth of the history of Colombia’s internal conflict.”   At the close of the cycle, Colombian government delegation chief Humberto de la Calle noted that the government is prepared to back a truth commission once a final peace agreement is reached, but not before.  The government “has always sustained that the truth is the central theme for the victims of the conflict” and is “a priority for the Government in these conversations.”  (Read De la Calle’s statement here.)

The theme of truth and reparations for victims is pending on the peace agenda.  A recent conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace laid out some of the proposals that civil society groups are preparing in anticipation of those discussions.  (See post here.)

For its part, the peace delegation of the FARC-EP also held a press conference at the close of the talks, in which members reiterated their assessment of “progress” and “achievements” in the last round of talks.

Electoral Politics

The electoral cycle meanwhile spins on.  Centro Democrático candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga, and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe, continue to question the peace process, and have challenged Santos for not withdrawing from the talks following the brutal torture and killing of two policemen in Tumaco.  Conservative presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramírz has said that, if elected, she would put a deadline of four months on the talks.  Enrique Peñalosa, the Alianza Verde candidate who some polls have shown as the favored candidate in a second presidential run-off, announced that he would maintain the current negotiating team in Havana, which he considered to be “responsible and suitable.”  Clara López, leftist candidate for the Polo Democrático Alternativo, has been a consistent supporter of the peace talks, and has named Aída Abella, president of the Unión Patriótica, as her vice-presidential candidate. (See article here.)  Former Senator Piedad Córdoba has made a proposal to include a ballot for the presidential elections that would facilitate creation of a new citizens’ mandate for peace.  (For more on her proposal, click here.)

Convening of the National Peace Council

In the brief pause between the rounds in Havana, President Santos announced his plan to convene the National Peace Council when the process is “mature,” a move that will address the ever-pressing need to engage the citizenry more actively in support of the peace process.  Its backing will be essential if a final peace accord is to be ratified by the public, as has been stipulated in the framework agreement establishing the peace talks.  The citizenry will also be a key factor in the implementation of any peace agreements reached down the road.

The National Peace Council was created under Law 434 in 1998 as a mechanism to ensure civil society’s participation in the last peace process with the FARC, but it has been inactive for over a decade. Luis Eduardo Garzón, who participated in the NPC as representative of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) during the Caguán peace talks more than a decade ago, will coordinate the effort.  The Council will undoubtedly be expanded to include representation from the Marcha Patriótica and perhaps victims’ groups.

At the local level, the destitution of Bogota’s mayor Gustavo Petro, strongly backed by President Santos, has alienated large parts of the left.  Some read the President’s convening of the NPC as an effort to recoup this disaffected sector.

On another front, there is some indication of newfound efforts to decentralize the peace message and help it take root within the country.  This week, Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo launched a Network of Mayors and Governors for Peace, strongly reminiscent of the Peace Summit of Mayors and Governors, an initiative spearheaded by Petro in October 2012. (See my earlier post on the summit here.)  The launch took place in Santander de Quilichao, a city in the department of Cauca where there have been various FARC attacks in recent weeks.

And back in Washington…

Finally, after months without movement, the Senate floor approved this week by a unanimous vote of 99-0 the nomination of Kevin Whitaker as the new U.S. Ambassador to Colombia. (See his hearing at the subcommittee level last December here.)

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The Catholic Church and Peacebuilding in Colombia

A conversation with Cardinal Ruben Salazar, Archbishop of Bogota and President of Colombia’s Episcopal Conference, now livestreaming from the University of Notre Dame:

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Peace and Human Rights in Colombia: Report on a Conference

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
By:   Virginia M. Bouvier, Lisa Haugaard and Moira Birss

Peace is more than just silencing guns. That was the upshot when Colombian human rights defenders gathered at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC last week to discuss the ongoing peace process between the FARC guerrillas and Colombia’s government and how the talks can advance justice in the aftermath of a deal.  Days later, in a development unrelated to the gathering, the Colombian government took a step in that direction.

USIP hosted a panel discussion on human rights and the peace process in Colombia

USIP hosted a panel discussion on human rights and the peace process in Colombia

The event at USIP, the latest in a series called the Colombia Peace Forum, was co-sponsored by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund and Peace Brigades International. It convened some 50 policymakers from across the U.S. government and other interested parties to discuss the link between human rights and the peace process.

Five Colombian human rights defenders, who were in Washington, D.C. to testify in the annual hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States, proposed a series of measures to advance truth about the violence Colombians have experienced during five decades of conflict and to provide a measure of justice for survivors. They suggested reforms that could help prevent a repetition of violations and forge a more sustainable peace.

A peace accord could help end a conflict in which some 220,000 people have been killed, more than 80 percent of them civilians, and nearly six million have been internally displaced, according to the government’s Center of Historical Memory.

Dealing with the past can be a thorny issue.  “The experience of many peace processes is that you have to seriously reckon with human rights issues at the table, or you can’t arrive at a successful peace,” said George Lopez, USIP’s vice president for the Academy of International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding.

All sides in Colombia’s conflict—which includes not only the parties at the peace table, but other insurgent groups such as the ELN as well as paramilitary or neo-paramilitary forces and criminal bands–have suffered losses, and all have inflicted violence on others.  As the peace talks have advanced in the past year, the government and the FARC rebels have become increasingly willing to accept responsibility for their actions, a transformative shift.  Although discussions at the table have yet to begin in earnest on the topic of victims and their rights to truth and reparations, human rights are woven into every part of the framework agreement that defines the terms of the negotiations.

Government Backs Truth Commission

On March 20, the FARC reiterated its call for a truth commission whose goal would be the “clarification of the origins and truth of the history of Colombia’s internal conflict.  On Sunday, March 30, lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the authorities will support the establishment [of] a truth commission that looks at “all of the truths, without exception” as part of a final peace deal.

Jomary Ortegón of CCAJAR and Liliana Avila of the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace

Jomary Ortegón of CCAJAR and Liliana Avila of the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace

For Liliana Avila of the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace, an organization that supports communities in conflict zones, such a truth commission that examines the violence of all of the armed actors–guerrillas, government forces, and paramilitaries–is essential.  Colombia needs “a collective narrative of the violence,” so that victims’ voices can be fully heard, Avila said during the forum at USIP.

Such a commission should include national and international members; operate throughout the country, not just in the capital city of Bogotá; and be established by national law, Avila said.  Most importantly, victims must have a lead role in the truth commission.  She stressed that the Colombian authorities and other governments that provided support during the conflict should declassify relevant documents.

Jomary Ortegón of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) said structural and attitudinal changes are also necessary.  Human rights abuses will not stop with the signing of a peace accord, because many abuses did not happen on the battlefield but were committed by illegal armed forces or by government forces against civilians, she said.

Colombia’s armed forces have viewed opposition members, labor leaders, land claimants, journalist, and human rights defenders as the “internal enemy” that threatens the status quo.  This attitude has led to abuses against those non-violently seeking legitimate social and political change.

Ortegón advocates for remedial measures such as purging the armed forces of those who engaged in abuses; revising national security manuals to expunge the concept of internal enemies; purging military intelligence files of false documents used to stigmatize activists; and strengthening the rule of law.  In addition to a truth commission, some prosecutions will be necessary to prevent a recurrence of the violations.  The Lawyers’ Collective has proposed establishment of a tribunal to focus on those with the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes, and provide substantial penalties.

The solution must improve on the 2005 demobilization of paramilitary forces under the Justice and Peace Law, which provided “neither justice nor peace,” argued Ortegón. The law gave benefits in exchange for truth-telling to some 32,000 paramilitaries, but sentenced only 14 leaders. Victims received reparations in only 10 cases.  Furthermore, the failure to dismantle paramilitary structures has meant that these forces continue to exercise control and commit grave abuses in many parts of the country.

Alejandro Malambo of the Colombian Commission of Jurists emphasized challenges faced by the government’s land restitution process.  Only 277 sentences have been produced, he noted, and even within these sentences, many families have not been able to return to their lands, in part due to continuing threats against them.  The restitution process must be accelerated, but it must be accompanied by more effective protection for the returnees.

U.S. Support for the Peace Process

The U.S. can help by sending a clear message that it is fully behind the peace process, according to Franklin Castañeda, president of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners, and representative of the Colombia-Europa-United States, a coalition of 245 Colombian human rights and nongovernmental organizations.  Sectors of the Colombian military that do not support the peace process need to be told that they will lose U.S. backing in the event of any efforts to sabotage the talks, he said.

Franklin Castañeda, from the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners and Moira Birss from Peace Brigades International.

Franklin Castañeda, from the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners, Moira Birss from Peace Brigades International, and JoMary Ortegón from CCAJAR.

U.S. leaders also should encourage the Colombian government to open negotiations with the largest remaining guerrilla group, the Army of National Liberation (ELN), which has a presence in 20 percent of the Colombian national territory.  If the ELN is not brought into a peace process, it will be difficult to solidify peace on the ground.

“This is an opportunity that cannot be wasted,” Castañeda stated.  His recommendation echoes the findings of a recent International Crisis Group report, “Left in the Cold?  The ELN and Colombia’s Peace Talks,” which underscores that delay in engaging the ELN in a peace process serves no one’s interests.

The U.S. is considered a strategic partner in the transition to peace and democracy.  Castañeda urged the United States to “encourage a peace process that is transformative.”  Such a process should disassemble the structures that caused and perpetuate the violence and should strengthen democratic institutions including the justice system. “This is a historic opportunity to dismantle the mafias” that have caused such harm to Colombian society, “and to build a real democracy,” Castañeda concluded.  “If we fail to take advantage of this great opportunity that history has provided us, many Colombians will continue to be killed.”

Virginia M. Bouvier, who moderated the forum, is Senior Program Officer for Latin America at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).  Lisa Haugaard is Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund.  Moira Birss is the Representative in North America of Peace Brigades International – Colombia.  This post  has been cross-posted at USIP’s website.  See


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Historic Philippine Peace Accord Reached

With 150,000 Filipinos dead and millions displaced, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a comprehensive peace accord yesterday that put an end to 40 years of war.  After 32 rounds of peace talks over nine years, the parties had signed a preliminary framework agreement on Oct. 12, 2012 that set the agenda and methodology for reaching yesterday’s final agreement.  The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, as it is called, grants greater political authority to Muslim areas in southern Mindanao in exchange for an end to armed rebellion.  It addresses the roots of the conflict and seeks to close the gap between this impoverished, largely Muslim area, and the rest of the predominantly Christian country.  As my colleague, Kristian Herbolzheimer, from Conciliation Resources, reminds us in the program below, the signing of the agreement is one important step in a longer process:

Al Jazeera attributed the breakthrough in the Philippines peace process to a meeting in Japan between the President Benigno Aquino III and Murad Ibrahim, the head of the MILF.  While such high-level meetings can be critically important, there is a thick web of individuals, relationships, and activities that underpin any peace process and are necessary to its success.  The Philippines agreement would not have come about without the persistent efforts of Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, lead negotiator for the government; Teresita Quintos-Deles, presidential advisor to the process from 2001-5 and 2010-14; and the government and MILF teams.  Women, with 9 of 12 spots on the  government negotiating team, played a key role, as did other civil society groups, including religious leaders who carried out inter-religious dialogues; communities that engaged in humanitarian activities; everyday citizens who generated resistance to the war and created local zones of peace; and individuals, organizations, and communities that delivered proposals to the peace table, and created peace infrastructures at the local, regional and national levels.  The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, Mindanao People’s Caucus, Muslim Organization of Government Employees, and Nonviolent Peace Force have been essential to establishing and ensuring implementation of a ceasefire that was put in place in 1997.  The Mindanao Peoples Caucus, an all-women civilian protection team, has monitored abuses against civilians and reported ceasefire violations.  It was also critical in promoting dialogues with women Muslim leaders to reconcile sharia law and women’s rights.  Such initiatives are only a few of the many civil society initiatives that will provide the foundations for the implementation of the peace accord.

The international community supported the peace process in a number of ways and its continued support will be critical to effective implementation of the accord.  The government of Malaysia brokered the talks, and an International Contract Group (ICG), coordinated by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), has accompanied the process.  The ICG is unique in that it includes four governments (Japan, United Kingdom, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) and 4 non-governmental organizations (CHD, Conciliation Resources, Asia Foundation, and Muhammadiyah).  An International Monitoring Team, including internationals, locals, civil-military, government, and NGOs, has been supported by Malaysia, Brunei, Norway, and the European Union.  The framework agreement for the peace talks signed in 2012 acknowledges a role for continued international support.  It noted,”The Parties recognize the need to attract multi-­‐donor country support, assistance and pledges to the normalization process,” and agreed to establish a Trust Fund  for “capacity building, institutional strengthening, impact programs to address imbalances in development and infrastructures, and economic facilitation for return to normal life affecting combatant and non-­‐combatant elements of the MILF, indigenous peoples, women, children, and internally displaced persons.”

The comprehensive peace accord signed yesterday is an important milestone, but it is not the end of the process.  The key to implementation will be local ownership, inclusive participation across sectors, and strong international support.  Expectations for rapid change will need to be managed, as structural reforms will take time and resources.  But the course is now set and hope reigns.

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