Tue Feb 21, 2017 6:55AM
Handout photo released by the Colombian Presidency’s press office shows Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) shaking hands with a FARC-EP leftist guerrilla during his visit to a transition zone in La Carmelita, Puerto Asis municipality, Putumayo department, February 20, 2017. (Via AFP)
Handout photo released by the Colombian Presidency’s press office shows Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) shaking hands with a FARC-EP leftist guerrilla during his visit to a transition zone in La Carmelita, Puerto Asis municipality, Putumayo department, February 20, 2017. (Via AFP)
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Colombia’s president says nearly 7,000 former rebels with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group have reached designated demobilization zones throughout the country, where they will start laying down their arms under a landmark peace deal with the government.

“This weekend the process of mobilization toward the zones was completed and the protocols of the bilateral and definitive ceasefire and the abandonment of arms has begun,” Juan Manuel Santos said on Monday.

He made the comments in southern Putumayo Province, where he visited the Carmelita transition zone to mark the arrival of all FARC rebels to the designated zones.

The UN-monitored mobilization process saw some 6,900 FARC members travel by boat and on foot from their jungle and mountain camps to 26 zones monitored by UN personnel. The last batch of the ex-rebels arrived there over the weekend.

It comes as part of the peace deal struck between the country’s government and the rebel group late last year, ending 52 years of violence, which killed more than 220,000 people.

The Colombian president further said the ex-rebels can begin surrendering their weapons to the United Nations, adding that they will have turned in all their arms by June.

Handout photo released by the Colombian Presidency’s press office shows President Juan Manuel Santos (R) meeting FARC-EP leftist guerrillas during his visit to a transition zone in La Carmelita, Puerto Asis municipality, Putumayo department, February 20, 2017. (Via AFP)

Ahead of the visit, Santos signed a decree to give the green light to a plan to construct 3,000 kilometers (1864 miles) of roads to connect the towns which were worst hit by the conflict.

An initial peace deal, negotiated for some four years, had been sealed on September 26, 2016, between the two warring sides, but it was rejected unexpectedly by a razor-thin margin in a referendum on October 2, with opponents, led by former President Alvaro Uribe, saying that it was too lenient on the rebels and called for revisions.

The final revised edition, signed in November 2016, won unanimous approval by both the senate and lower house of Colombia’s Congress in late November and early December, respectively.