Colombia's Marxist FARC rebel group has agreed to remove child soldiers from its ranks. The move is part of an imminent peace deal with the government.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed Sunday to "implement [the] departure of those under 15 years of age as soon as terms are agreed upon," it said in a statement in Cuba, where peace talks with the government are ongoing.
The use of child soldiers under 15 is a violation of international humanitarian law, and the FARC has long been criticized for its use of minors in its war against the state since 1964.
The head of the rebels' negotiating team told Colombian media last year that there were 13 children younger than 15 living among FARC fighters.
Peace talks ongoing
The two sides have been negotiating a peace accord since 2012. The FARC and the government are now working on the terms of a bilateral ceasefire, a key sticking point in the peace process.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Friday he hoped the war with the FARC - Latin America's longest-running civil war - would end "very soon."
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said Wednesday that peace talks were in the "homestretch." He added that Colombia plans to hold a referendum on the deal by September.
The conflict has left 260,000 people dead and 45,000 missing. Another 6.6 million have been displaced.
The FARC announced last June that it would release the child soldiers, but said this would not take place until a final peace accord has been reached.
Reintegration into society
Child soldiers under 15 will reportedly be surrendered to Colombia's Family Welfare Agency, and those between 15 and 18 will go through a transitional justice system to be put in place in the event of a peace deal.
The UN's children's organization UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration will reportedly be charged with supervising the children's transition out of the FARC and their reintegration to their families and society.
jbh/cmk (AP, AFP)