Colombia's government and the country's largest rebel movement signed a historic peace accord Monday evening ending a half-century of combat that caused more than 220,000 deaths and made 8 million homeless, the AP reports. Underlining the importance of the deal, President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londono, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed the 297-page agreement before a crowd of 2,500 foreign dignitaries and special guests, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry. Many in the audience had tears in their eyes, and shouts rose urging Santos and Londono to "Hug, hug, hug!" But in the end, the two men just clasped hands and the rebel commander, also known as Timochenko, put on a pin shaped like a white dove that Santos has been wearing on his lapel for years. Seconds later five jets buzzed overhead in formation trailing smoke in the colors of Colombia's flag.
During a minute of silence for the war's victims, 50 white flags were raised. Everyone at the event wore white as a symbol of peace. Santos proclaimed after the signing that the accord will help Colombia to stop the killing, to end the deaths of young people, the innocent, soldiers and rebels alike. He led the crowd in chants of "No more war! No more war! No more war!" and he urged Colombians to vote to accept the accord in the Oct. 2 national referendum that will determine if it takes effect. Londono called Santos "a courageous partner" in reaching the peace deal through four hard years of negotiations, calling the accord "a victory for Colombian society and the international community." He also praised FARC's fighters as heroes of the downtrodden in the struggle for social justice, but repeated the movement's request for forgiveness for the war. "I apologize ... for all the pain that we have caused," he said. Click for more on the historic event. (Read more Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia stories.)