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Colombia

Colombia passes amnesty law for thousands of FARC rebels

Colombia's Congress has approved an amnesty law protecting the FARC guerrilla group from prosecution for minor crimes. The law is part of a historic peace deal signed last month ending more than 50 years of civil war.

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Colombia approves guerrilla 'amnesty law'

As FARC rebels prepare to demobilize, Colombia's Senate and Lower House on Wednesday passed an amnesty bill protecting the group's guerrilla fighters from persecution for minor crimes committed during the country's 52-year civil war.

The new law is a key part of the historic peace agreement signed last month between the government and rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The accord saw Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos receive the Nobel Peace Prizefor his role in the peace talks.

The new amnesty law passed with a clear majority in both chambers, winning 69 votes in the 102-seat Senate and 121 votes in the 166-seat Lower House. However, members from the right-wing Democratic Center Party, which has stridently opposed the peace accord, abstained from voting.

Santos took to Twitter to praise the "historic" vote, calling the amnesty law the "first step towards consolidating peace."

Amnesty for minor crimes

As part of the law, rebel fighters found guilty of committing minor crimes during the civil war will be granted amnesty. The same law also applies to members of the military.

Rebels found guilty of committing serious crimes, such as massacres, sexual violence or kidnapping, will not fall under amnesty. A special court set up to hear their crimes will hand out alternative sentences such as land mine removal.

In a joint statement Wednesday, FARC leaders and the government said they would establish how many rebels are not eligible for amnesty by the end of January.

Complex peace process

The amnesty law is the first in a series of measures designed to reassure FARC rebels of the peace deal and accelerate their demobilization. Other laws tied to the accord include rural reform, compensation to victims, the removal of land mines and a ceasefire deal to be monitored by the United Nations.

Perhaps most controversially, the FARC will transform into a political party, receiving a guaranteed 10 unelected seats in Colombia's parliament until 2026.

Ahead of Wednesday's vote, the President of Colombia's Senate, Mauricio Lizcano, said that some 5,700 guerrilla fighters had already laid down their arms and begun moving into special demobilization zones.

Colombia's 52-year long conflict saw more than 260,000 people killed and left some 45,000 missing.

Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month, Santos said his country's peace deal should serve as proof to all countries mired in civil war that peace is always possible.

dm/cmk (Reuters, AFP)

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