Sealed with a handshake: Colombian government representative Humberto de la Calle, right, and FARC commander Ivan Marquez greet each other after signing a peace deal in Havana.

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After five decades of war, Colombia and a rebel group sign a peace deal

FARC guerrillas have promised to lay down their weapons and rejoin society

CNN  — 

The end seems near for one of the world’s longest running conflicts, with the announcement of a peace deal between the government of Colombia and the Marxist rebels of FARC.

Here’s what you need to know:

A brief history of the war

It’s been a devastating war, with more than five decades of battle between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym FARC) and the country’s government.

It began in 1964, after the success of the Cuban revolution, with the rebels wanting to forcibly redistribute wealth.

An undated picture shows Ingrid Betancourt during her time as a FARC hostage in the jungle.

In the more than 50 years since then, the armed group has seized territory, attacked government forces and interfered with political life through high-profile kidnappings. The rebels hijacked a commercial airliner to kidnap a senator in 2002, one of at least three passenger plane hijackings in the early part of the century. One of the group’s most notorious feats was the capture of presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2002, who was held deep in the jungle for six years before she was rescued in a Colombian military operation.

FARC also turned to the drug trade, making millions from trafficking in cocaine. It was designated a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

The rebels forced children to become soldiers, training them as guerrillas to lay mines and fight.

As the decades passed, thousands upon thousands of people were killed. Up to 220,000 died in the insurgency and as many as 5 million people were displaced – more than 1 out of every 10 Colombians.

The long, bumpy road to a peace deal

There have been sporadic attempts at peace since the 1980s.

A ceasefire brokered in 1984 included the release of a number of imprisoned guerrilla fighters. That truce ended in 1990 when several thousand former FARC members were killed.

Another attempt fell apart in 2002. Then-President Andres Pastrana ceded an area the size of Switzerland to the guerrilla group but ended negotiations after rebels launched a series of attacks across the country in an apparent bid to strengthen their position.

Talks about talks began again in August 2012 and the two sides met in Havana the following November. Cuban President Raul Castro presided over the negotiations that went on (and off and on) for four years before a ceasefire deal was signed this June.

That was another step on the way to the full peace deal, signed Wednesday by President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leaders.

What’s next

The deal needs to be approved by a majority of Colombian citizens and a referendum has been set for October 2.

The plan is that FARC rebels will lay down their arms and leave their jungle strongholds.

A FARC guerrilla listens during a class on the peace process and how life will be in the future.

The leaders of FARC have said they will switch to a political track, taking their battle from the countryside to the polls, starting a party to win seats in Colombia’s congress.

The reintegration of the fighters and all those affected by the insurgency will be key. The government has promised training programs to help.

The reaction

Colombians celebrate in their capital, Bogota, as the deal is signed.

So far, so good. The key players are hailing the deal, President Barack Obama and US officials praised the triumph of democracy and Colombians celebrated on the streets. Economists also see an opportunity for a peace dividend.

CNN’s Patrick Oppmann and Rafael Romo contributed to this report.