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Politics Canada commits $57-million to support peace process in Colombia

A man celebrates the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016.

Fredy Builes/Reuters

Canada is committing nearly $60-million to help support the implementation of Colombia's peace process after the government and the country's largest rebel group recently agreed to a historic ceasefire to end one of the world's longest-running wars.

Although International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says Canada supports the peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, she sidestepped endorsing the guerrilla group's eventual formation of a political party. As a part of the final deal, FARC will demobilize and form a left-wing political party after the peace process is complete.

"There will be this transitional justice process to go through before we can talk about the FARC being part of the political atmosphere. I just want to be cautious when we talk about that – that we don't take shortcuts and to make sure that the population doesn't think that, 'Okay, tomorrow the FARC will become a political party and it's so easy.' No, there will be a process," Ms. Bibeau told The Globe and Mail in an interview from Cartagena on Monday.

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FARC, a Marxist-Leninist group founded in the 1960s with intentions of overthrowing the Colombian government, is currently listed as a terrorist entity by Canada. According to Mark Freeman, a Canadian expert on international justice who provided advice to the Colombian government delegation on the peace negotiations, FARC's involvement in Colombian politics is inevitable if the peace process unfolds properly.

"There are prior steps that the guerrillas must first complete, however they must have a clear line to a future of political participation. It is the very quintessence of the whole process," said Mr. Freeman, who runs the Institute for Integrated Transitions out of Barcelona.

Ms. Bibeau's visit to Colombia comes after the government and FARC signed a ceasefire on June 23. The agreement ends more than 50 years of civil war, which left 220,000 people dead, 40,000 missing and more than five million displaced.

On Tuesday in Bogota, Ms. Bibeau will announce $57-million for five initiatives supporting peace implementation and those affected by decades of armed conflict in Colombia, especially women and youth. Following a meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the minister will announce the funding alongside Rafael Pardo, senior presidential adviser for post-conflict.

"We want to support Colombia in this process because we think it's time for reconciliation and it's time for peace," Ms. Bibeau said. "We believe in this process."

The new funding is an increase to Canada's annual international assistance for Colombia, which has hovered around $40-million a year.

Mr. Freeman said Canada's financial commitment comes at critical time for Colombia, adding that the government's focus on conflict-affected communities, especially women and youth, is in line with the local priorities in the country.

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"Pledges such as this one by Canada send a very important signal to the Colombian public, the victims of the conflict and all voters that the period ahead can and will be different than the conflict period that they've experienced for so many decades," Mr. Freeman said. "It's also important for Canada to be doing things like this as an expression of its return to the kind of enlightened values that people traditionally associate with Canadian foreign policy."

A final peace deal is expected in the next month or two, according to Mr. Freeman, to be followed by a plebiscite on the accord.

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