- Associated Press - Thursday, July 26, 2018

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Colombia’s outgoing vice president paid tribute to the U.N. Security Council Thursday for its support in building peace in a country ravaged by conflict for five decades and assured the world that the incoming president will work to consolidate peace.

Oscar Naranjo said the November 2016 peace agreement between President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and leftist FARC rebels has not only seen FARC fighters lay down their weapons in “record time” of nine months but the transformation of FARC into a political party that now has seats in Congress.

“There are still challenges ahead,” Naranjo said in an emotional farewell speech from the Santos government to the U.N.’s most powerful body.

But he said: “You can be sure that the incoming government, when the President-elect Ivan Duque comes in - he has said he will continue with this agreement and guarantee that Colombia will continue down a path toward sustainable peace.”

In January 2016, Santos’ government and FARC jointly asked the Security Council to help monitor and verify rebel disarmament should the two sides reach a deal to end their war, which left an estimated 260,000 people dead and displaced millions. It was a rare request for help to the council, which deals with global crises and is often the target of criticism for failing to end conflicts like Syria.

Naranjo said “if there was one unifying factor around peace in Colombia” it is the Security Council which established a political mission in response to the request.

“And we should like to say to our compatriots and to the world as a whole we have no words to thank the unanimous way in which this council has supported the building of peace in our country,” he said.

Among the challenges ahead, Naranjo said, reintegration of FARC rebels into society “is critical,” and Santos is handing a roadmap for the integration process to the next government.

He said the new government also has to extend its authority and transform areas which were the scene of military conflict so they become an integral part of the state which can then protect the communities there.

Without the conflict with FARC, Naranjo said, the new government also has a “unique opportunity” to combat illegal drug trafficking and strengthen action against organized crime. He said many families have expressed a desire to abandon illicit cultivation and substitute legal crops.

Naranjo pointed with “great satisfaction” to the first hearings by the special peace tribunal established to deal with former combatants.

“These hearings are now allowing for a transitional justice system to happen, which will be bringing to justice and punishing those who were involved in any way in this internal armed conflict and who violated laws and neglected human rights,” he said.

U.N. envoy Jean Arnault, who heads the political mission in Colombia, told the council that “time will tell, but the positive response from victims and the recent decision of senior army officers to accept voluntarily the jurisdiction” of the special tribunal “is an indication that the Colombian peace process may well be close to striking the right balance between the demands of peace and justice.”

He urged the international community to maintain support for the tribunal, for the Truth Commission in Colombia and the unit searching for missing persons.

Arnault stressed that the reintegration of FARC members into civilian life “is very much unfinished business.”

“To complete the work started by the current government will no doubt require dedication and resources,” he said. “But fulfilling the guarantees given to those who have laid down their weapons and undergo now the difficult transition to civilian life is essential for Colombia, and also for Colombia to be a source of motivation for parties to conflicts elsewhere in the world.”

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