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Colombia, FARC rebels sign key deal on justice for victims

Adalberto Roque / AFP | The head of the Colombian government delegation to peace talks, Humberto de la Calle (L) and the head of the FARC delegation Ivan Marquez (R) shake hands on December 15, 2015

The Columbian government on Tuesday signed a landmark deal with the FARC rebel group on paying reparations and providing justice for war victims, seen as a major step towards a peace agreement to end their half-century conflict.

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“The national government and the FARC have agreed to create an integral system of justice and reparations... fulfilling our commitment to place victims at the centre of the peace accord,” they said in a joint statement read out in Havana, where they have been holding peace talks since November 2012.

The deal, the product of a year and a half of negotiations, sets out the procedures of a special justice system that will be set up to try those accused of the atrocities that human rights groups say both sides have committed in the war.

The signing of the agreement helps put peace talks back on track towards reaching a March 23 deadline for a comprehensive plan to end Latin America’s longest war, which has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions since 1964.

“We’ve never been so close to a definitive agreement before,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who won re-election last year by staking his campaign on the peace talks, wrote on Twitter.

The two sides have now signed deals on four of six agenda items for the peace talks: justice for victims, land reform, political participation for ex-rebels, and fighting the drug trafficking that has fuelled the conflict in the world’s largest cocaine-producing country.

The only unsettled questions now are disarmament and the mechanism by which the final accord will be ratified.

“The justice agreement was the most complex, the most difficult. It’s a very important step to be able to end the conflict soon,” Santos said from a government ceremony in Colombia.

Light sentences

The courts of the special justice system will issue lighter sentences for those who admit to their crimes, while offering an amnesty for all but the most serious crimes, such as summary executions, rapes and kidnappings.

Former rebels and soldiers who confess to crimes committed during the conflict will receive 5-year to 8-year sentences of supervised “restrictions of liberty", which would involve surveillance and monitoring but not jail.

“Let’s be clear: We’ve always said there wouldn’t be prison in these cases,” said Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator.

Lead rebel negotiator Ivan Marquez said it was the first agreement in Colombia to forgo a general amnesty and instead “reveal all the violations of rights and all those responsible”.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerrilla group, is the largest of Colombia’s two remaining rebel groups, with an estimated 8,000 fighters.

The other group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has an estimated 2,500 fighters. It has held preliminary talks with the government but has not yet entered a formal peace process.

Some 3,000 victims of the rebels, government troops and right-wing paramilitary groups participated and offered thousands of proposals during the 18-months of talks to establish the deal. Sixty victims gave testimony to peace negotiators in Havana.

“Today we reclaim our dignity and restate our demand that the peace accords uphold the rights of all victims,” said Jineth Bedoya, a journalist who was kidnapped and raped by paramilitary fighters in 2000, and who was part of a group of victims who travelled to Havana for the signing ceremony.

“Our support for the peace process does not mean we renounce justice, reparations and above all the truth,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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