U.N. Security Council creates mission to verify a Colombia peace deal

Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar poses for photographers with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following a Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York. January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council on Monday approved the creation of a U.N. mission of unarmed international observers to monitor disarmament should Colombia’s government and leftist FARC rebels reach a deal to end Latin America’s longest war.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a British-drafted resolution that would establish a political mission for 12 months “to monitor and verify the definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, and the laying down of arms.”

In a televised speech on Monday night, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said: “Today, Colombia is the synonym for hope in the world.

“The decision taken by the Security Council means that from now we are not alone - but that we go hand in hand with the U.N., with the whole world - toward the end of this war,” said Santos, who staked his 2014 re-election on the peace talks with FARC.

Colombia’s 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 50-year-old war, which has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions, by a March 23 deadline.

“It is a commendable step forward from the government of Colombia and the FARC to voluntarily bring this issue to the United Nations. That’s a rare occurrence,” Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, told reporters before the meeting.

The rebels’ willingness to make the request jointly with the government is a sign of progress as the two sides aim to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. Santos said last year he would make such an appeal to the United Nations.

“Colombia is now on the precipice of a historic achievement,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council. “The Security Council shows that the United Nations stands with the Colombian people as they forge this new future.”

The resolution asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present detailed recommendations for such a mission to the Security Council for consideration and approval within 30 days of the signing of a peace deal.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney