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Colombian terror group linked to IRA signs up to ceasefire deal

By Michael Weissenstein

The leftist Colombian terror group that formed an alliance with the IRA has agreed a ceasefire and decommissioning deal with the country's president.

It moves the South American country to the brink of ending a 52-year war that has left more than 220,000 people dead.

At a ceremony in Havana, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and Farc commander Rodrigo Londono, better known as Timochenko, listened to the reading of a deal laying out how 7,000 rebel fighters will demobilise and hand over their weapons once a peace accord is implemented.

In attendance were UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, a special US envoy and the presidents of Cuba, Chile, Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

A 15-year, US-backed military offensive thinned rebel ranks and forced Farc's ageing leaders to the negotiating table in 2012.

In Mr Santos, a US-educated economist and scion of one of Colombia's richest families, the rebels found a trusted partner who hailed from the conservative elite but was not bound by its prejudices.

Momentum had been building toward a breakthrough after Mr Santos said this week he hoped to deliver a peace accord in time to mark Colombia's declaration of independence from Spain on July 20. But the latest agreement went further than expected.

In addition to a framework for the ceasefire, both sides said they agreed on a demobilisation plan that will see guerrillas hand over weapons that had long been the vaunted symbols of their movement's origins as a self-defence force of peasant farmers attacked by the oligarchy-controlled state.

Negotiators in January agreed the UN would be responsible for monitoring the ceasefire and resolving disputes emerging from the demobilisation.

The IRA's links to Farc caused a crisis in Northern Ireland's peace process 15 years ago.

Three IRA suspects - Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley - were arrested in Colombia in 2001 on suspicion of teaching bomb-making techniques to Farc. Bizarrely, they had claimed to be eco-tourists.

They were sentenced to 17 years for training the guerilla group after an appeal court reversed an earlier acquittal. But the trio vanished in 2004 while on bail and secretly made their way back to the Irish Republic.

The scandal led to speculation that the IRA had been training the Marxist terror group for years before the arrests, as Farc extended its campaign into urban areas.

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