Colombia's President declared the end of the world's longest-running civil war yesterday at a forest disarmament ceremony, as the United Nations confirmed that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) had finally handed over all its weapons.

Speaking amid a cloud of white butterflies, Juan Manuel Santos hailed "the best news Colombia has had for 50 years".

Lamenting the 220,000 lives lost and millions displaced, the Nobel Peace Prize winner said: "We will never forget this day - the day that weapons were exchanged for words."

Demobilising guerrillas flocked to Mesetas, the rural area in central Colombia where the founding members of the Farc set up their first base 60 years ago, and which yesterday hosted their last act as combatants.


There, they applauded with dignitaries from around the world as video links showed weapons stockpiles being sealed by United Nations monitors.

Rodrigo Londono, the Farc leader, pronounced the "opening of a new era" for Colombia and for the Farc as a peaceful political movement.

"Goodbye to war! Welcome, peace!" he said.

It has been a process marked by setbacks, including the rejection of the deal in a referendum last year, forcing hasty revisions before it was rubber-stamped by Parliament.

Demobilisation has been slow, with complaints from guerrillas that the Government had failed to fulfil its promises.

But yesterday, the UN said it had received all 7132 individual weapons registered by the Farc. It had also verified 77 stockpiles and destroyed explosives and ammunition.

However, many Colombians fear the days of terror are not yet over. In some regions, the withdrawal of the Farc has heralded an upsurge in violence as para-militaries and other guerrilla groups, such as the ELN, battle for control of territory.

The drug trade has exploded, with cocaine production more than doubling in the past three years.