Religious freedom advocacy Christian Solidarity Worldwide has welcomed news of a ceasefire and disarmament agreement between the Colombian Government and illegal armed group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces for Colombia (FARC).

Announced this week, the agreement reportedly established "a bilateral ceasefire and end to hostilities and the definitive laying down of arms". Previous agreements made as part of the ongoing peace process include provisions under which those responsible for human rights violations fully confess to those violations in order to benefit from the possibility of reduced sentences.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos shook hands with FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez after the deal was signed at a ceremony in Cuba. "This is a historic day for our country," he said.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of the UK-based CSW, says the bilateral ceasefire agreement represents an "important step forward in bringing an end to a conflict that has left millions of victims over more than half a century of conflict".

He said CSW supported calls for the Colombian Government to pursue policies to address other actors in the country's long-running conflict, including the ELN and other neo-paramilitary groups, "both of which are responsible for ongoing human rights violations, including violations of freedom of religion or belief".

All parties in the long-running conflict, which has its origins back in the 1960s, have committed human rights violations. More than 250,000 people have been killed, another 45,000 are missing and almost seven million people have been displaced from their homes.

Following the ceasefire announcement, on Thursday, churches and faith-based organisations affiliated with the Inter-Ecclesial Dialogue for Peace (DiPAz) in Colombia held simultaneous liturgical celebrations.

~ www.csw.org.au

- DAVID ADAMS