Durkan hopes Santos and Timochenko can seal historic Colombian peace deal

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Londonderry MP Mark Durkan says he hopes Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-leader Timochenko can lead their people to a historic peace deal this month saying they’ve already achieved a lot - even more than we have here - on the issue of victims and justice, for example.

Mr Durkan travelled to Colombia last week to support a new peace deal, which would see an end to the longest-running conflict in the Americas.

Peace talks have been ongoing since 2012 between the Colombian Government and left-wing rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The Londonderry MP visited South America with Jeffrey Donaldson and John McCallister following a visit to Havana last year when Mr Durkan met with Timochenko.

In a joint statement the three Northern Irish politicians warned that if a peace deal is successfully struck on March 23, making it stick will be the real test.

“In our experience, the implementation was more difficult than the negotiations. Some of those difficulties arose because we rushed the agreement, leaving too many ambiguities and a lack of clarity which then caused problems in the implementation. It is essential to have no doubt between the parties as to what is being agreed.

“Something else experience has taught us is the importance of having the communities which have been directly affected by the conflict involved in the implementation phase. Our communities were involved in implementing the agreement and had access to the funds coming in from the international community.

“This not only helps create a sense of ownership of the agreement amongst civil society, but also shows communities the immediate benefits of peace,” they said.

The trio also said that the ongoing Colombian peace process was about backing the future.

“The peace process is an investment in the future of the young people in Colombia, to offer them a future free from the violence, pain and misery that comes with conflict.

“We signed our agreement 18 years ago, and we are still implementing parts of it.

“It is a long and difficult journey. But we can now debate and disagree without lives being lost. Our support for the Colombian process comes from a group of cross party politicians, from left to right, former members of the conflict on both sides. We have different visions of the future, different ideologies, but we are united on ensuring peace and stability.

“And we are hugely encouraged by the progress we have seen in the Colombian process and welcome the leadership shown by Santos and the FARC in getting so far along,” they stated.

The local representatives also promised that Northern Ireland will be a friend to Colombia in the years to come.

“We hope that the lessons of Northern Ireland have helped this process, but we know that peace in Colombia needs to be implemented by the Colombian people. Our commitment to supporting the process here goes far beyond the negotiation stage.

“We will continue to offer our experiences when sought. And we know the international community has pledged support for the future. If experience has taught us anything, it is that once signed, an agreement only means something when it is implemented. We wish the Colombian people every success at this crucial point in the country’s history,” they pledged.