Colombian peace deal passed by Senate, moves to lower house

People demonstrate on the street as Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and Marxist FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono sign a new peace accord in Bogota

By Helen Murphy

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s Senate approved a new peace deal with FARC rebels late on Tuesday, despite objections from former president and now Senator Alvaro Uribe, who said it was still too lenient on the insurgents who have battled the government for 52 years.

The agreement was approved by 75 to zero after lawmakers from Uribe’s Democratic Center party left the floor of the Senate in protest just before voting began.

The accord moves on Wednesday to the lower house, where it is expected to be ratified easily.

President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Rodrigo Londono signed the revised accord last week in a sober ceremony after the first deal was rejected by millions at a plebiscite.

Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last month for his peace efforts, wants to get the deal in place as quickly as possible to maintain a fragile ceasefire.

In a 12-hour session, Uribe’s supporters argued that the deal offered too many concessions to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and did not serve as a warning for other groups involved in crime.

“Those who are against and those in favor were listened to in equal measure and with respect,” Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said after the vote, adding he hoped for a continuing “useful and fruitful dialogue that will allow the accords to be improved.”

The new agreement to end Latin America’s longest insurgency was put together in just over a month after the original pact – which allowed the rebels to hold public office and skip jail – was narrowly and unexpectedly defeated in an Oct. 2 referendum.

The new document did not alter the provisions, angering many among Colombia’s largely conservative population. Opponents are also furious Santos decided to ratify the deal in Congress instead of holding another plebiscite.

The government and FARC worked together in Cuba for four years to negotiate an end to the region’s longest-running conflict that has killed more than 220,000 and displaced millions in the Andean nation.

The signing and ratification in Congress begin a six-month countdown for the 7,000-strong FARC, which started in 1964 as a rebellion fighting rural poverty, to abandon weapons and form a political party.

An end to the war with the FARC is unlikely to end violence in Colombia as the lucrative cocaine business has given rise to criminal gangs and traffickers.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)