UN to monitor end of Colombia-FARC conflict

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations agreed Monday to monitor the expected end of a half-century conflict between the Colombian government and FARC rebels, in a move hailed as an important step towards peace.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that, at the request of the two sides, establishes a "political mission" with unarmed international observers.

The mission will be in place for at least 12 months to supervise and check the laying down of arms, and be part of a tripartite body to "monitor and verify the definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities" between Bogota and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, the resolution said.

"The Security Council's decision means we are no longer going alone, but hand in hand with the UN, the entire world, towards the end of this war," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in televised remarks.

Britain's envoy to the United Nations, whose country submitted the measure, also hailed the resolution's adoption.

"It is an important step towards peace in Colombia, we are delighted of such strong support," Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters.

"It's the first time for I don't know how long... since a country chose to come to the Security Council of its own volition and have a UN authorization around important parts of a peace deal."

The resolution requests that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon begin preparations for such a mission now and submit details on its size, operational aspects and mandate for Security Council consideration and approval within 30 days of the signing of a peace agreement.

Diplomats said the mandate and operational details of the deployment of observers -- to be recruited from members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) -- were to be dealt with by a second resolution, which could be adopted in February when Venezuela holds the council's rotating presidency.

Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar attended Monday's Security Council session and expressed her gratitude.

"I would like to convey to the members of the council that their willingness to work with Colombia on this matter is essential for the success of the process," she said in a speech.

"We see our future with hope in our capacity for reconciliation, essential in renewing our society."

- 'Hard work ahead' -

Peace talks between Bogota and the Marxist FARC, held in the Cuban capital Havana, have made several key advances in recent months, and the two sides have set a deadline of March 23 to sign a final accord -- though the FARC have warned that "substantial" obstacles could get in the way.

They have signed deals on four of the six agenda items at the talks: justice for victims, land reform, political participation for ex-rebels and fighting the drug trafficking that has fueled the conflict in the world's largest cocaine-producing country.

The unsettled issues are disarmament and the mechanism by which the final accord will be ratified.

US Ambassador Samantha Power pledged US support in the final stretch to the peace deal and beyond, noting much more still needed to be done.

"The United States remains at your side, ready to assist in the hard work ahead -- in the lead-up to the final peace agreement, and then in the challenging process of implementation that will follow," she said.

In particular, Power said victims would need access to justice and that communities that suffered in the conflict would need basic security and additional public services.

In addition, former fighters would need to be reintegrated into society and landmines cleared, she added.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia launched in the aftermath of a peasant uprising in 1964.

The Colombian conflict -- which has dragged on for five decades, killing more than 220,000 people and displacing six million -- has drawn in right-wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers and several leftist rebel groups, of which the FARC is the oldest and largest remaining.