Colombia's government will sign a bilateral cease-fire with the nation's last remaining major rebel group ahead of Pope Francis' visit this week, President Juan Manuel Santos announced Monday. Santos said the agreement will be signed later in the day in Quito, Ecuador, where negotiations with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, have been taking place since February, AP reports. The cease-fire, whose details were being ironed out as late as Monday morning, would take effect Oct. 1 and initially run through Jan. 12, at which time it can be renewed if the two sides agree, he said. "The pope is arriving amid a unique moment in our history, as we turn the page on an absurd conflict and look to the future with hope," Santos said in a televised address.
The cease-fire could be a major step toward securing a lasting peace. More than five decades of conflict involving the two rebel movements, the army, and right-wing paramilitary groups have resulted in more than 260,000 deaths, the disappearance of tens of thousands of people and the displacement of 6 million. Reconciliation is expected to be a central theme of the visit by Francis, who in 2015 publicly urged government and FARC negotiators not to waste a chance to strike a lasting peace. Under the deal between the government and the FARC, the group has turned over its weapons and is in the process of reorganizing as a political movement to compete in elections next year.