, EL DIAMANTE, Colombia, Sep 18 – The leader of Colombia’s FARC rebels said Sunday a historic peace accord with the government has received the guerrillas’ “total support” at a conference where they will vote on the deal.
“We’re feeling very strong backing for all the work we’ve done,” said Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre, Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez, on the second day of a week-long meeting that leaders hope will be the Marxist rebels’ last wartime conference.
After 52 years at war with the Colombian government, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will wrap up the conference with a vote on the peace deal concluded on August 24.
If they ratify it, as they are expected to do, they will then relaunch themselves as a political party.
“The FARC are for peace. The FARC are thinking about converting ourselves into a political movement,” said Londono, dressed in a white polo shirt stamped with the image of leftist revolutionary icon Che Guevara.
The statements amounted to an implicit denial of rumors that dissident factions within the FARC, which has an estimated 7,500 fighters, may not sign on to the peace process.
The guerrillas’ chief peace negotiator, Ivan Marquez, said the conference was an “extraordinary success.”
Some 500 FARC commanders and representatives of the rank and file are meeting in the group’s traditional stronghold in Caguan, in southeast Colombia.
Most were sporting white T-shirts with the logo of the conference — the guerrillas’ 10th — rather than their traditional combat fatigues.
Once the FARC give their blessing to the deal brought home by their negotiators after nearly four years of talks in Cuba, Londono and President Juan Manuel Santos will sign it on September 26.
It will then be put to a vote by the Colombian people in a decisive referendum on October 2.
Recent polls indicate it is likely to pass, though the level of support has fluctuated broadly.
Colombians are anxious to end a conflict that has drawn in various left- and right-wing armed groups and drug traffickers across the decades, leaving 260,000 people dead and 45,000 missing.