Colombia reached a major milestone on its road to peace Tuesday as leftist rebels gave up some of their last weapons and declared an end to their half-century insurgency. The historic step was taken as President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to a demobilization camp in Colombia's eastern jungles to join guerrilla leaders as they begin their transition to civilian life, the AP reports. In a short ceremony, UN observers padlocked the last containers storing some of the 7,132 weapons that members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have turned in over the past few weeks at 26 camps across the country. "By depositing the weapons ... the Colombians and the entire world know that our peace is real and irreversible," Santos, winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, told ex-rebel fighters dressed in white shirts with a Spanish hashtag reading: "Our only [weapons] are words."
Though hundreds of FARC caches filled with larger weapons and explosives are still being cleared out, the UN has certified that all individual firearms and weapons, except for a small number needed to safeguard the soon-to-disband camps, have been collected. The day put Colombia one step closer to turning a page on Latin America's longest-running conflict, which caused at least 250,000 deaths, left 60,000 people missing, and displaced more than 7 million. After years of negotiations, the rebels reached an agreement with the government last year to give up their weapons and transition into a political party, though implementing the deal has been slow. A Rutgers expert says doubt by conservative opponents over the exact number of weapons turned in ultimately doesn't matter. "What's more important is we are witnessing ... the willingness of the FARC to really demobilize and reintegrate," he notes.