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Last of Colombia's FARC rebels enter demobilization areas to disarm

Leftist guerrillas have entered the designated transition zone established as part of peace efforts in Colombia. A deal was recently reached between the government and rebels after numerous hurdles.

Thousands of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have entered the designated transition zones to put aside their weapons, bringing the country closer to ending its decades-long civil war.

Observers released a statement on Saturday saying the last 300 fighters had completed the march to the Montanita area, where one of the zones is located.

"Now, around 6,900 FARC guerrillas are in the 26 zones," said Javier Perez Aquin, chief observer at the UN mission in Colombia.

The past several weeks have seen thousands of combatants gather in the various zones around the country, one of the most important steps of a heralded peace deal reached between the leftist guerrillas and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.

Under that deal, the revised version of which was signed in November after a previous deal was rejected by voters in a referendum, all of the weapons used by the rebels are to be handed in by May. The government will then melt the weapons down to be used in a peace memorial.

Ecuador Kolumbiens Friedensgespräche mit der ELN (picture alliance/AP Photo/D. Ochoa)

Representatives from the ELN and the Colombian government shake hands in Ecuador

Talks with ELN ongoing

Bogota also officially launched talks with the last active rebel group in the country, the National Liberation Army (ELN), though the two sides have yet to decide the exact points that will be negotiated. The path for the renewed talks was cleared after the ELN released former congressman Odin Sanchez, who had been held captive since last year.

The start of the talks with the ELN had been delayed for close to a year while the government negotiated Sanchez's release. Santos, who was recently awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in ending the conflict, wants to reach an agreement with the ELN as soon as possible, before the organization has time to take over the areas and drug routes abandoned by the FARC.

Colombia has been mired in conflict since the mid-1960s, as various Marxist rebel groups, paramilitary groups and crime syndicates fought with the government. Some 220,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and more than five million have been displaced in the past severald decades alone.

blc/  (dpa, AP)

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