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Colombia Government, Rebels Sign War Victims Compensation Deal

  • Ken Schwartz

FILE - Cuba's President Raul Castro (C) encourages Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Commander the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, Timoleon Jimenez, to shake hands, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 23, 2015.

FILE - Cuba's President Raul Castro (C) encourages Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Commander the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, Timoleon Jimenez, to shake hands, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 23, 2015.

Colombia took a major step toward a final peace deal Tuesday when the government and the Marxist rebel group FARC signed an agreement to compensate victims and punish those responsible for war crimes.

"We've never been close to a definitive agreement before," President Juan Manuel Santos wrote in a Twitter message.

"The justice agreement was the most complex, the most difficult. It's a very important step to be able to end the conflict soon," he said at a government ceremony in Colombia.

FARC rebel leaders had always sworn that their fighters would never go to jail. Under the deal, rebels who confess to crimes would have their freedom of movement restricted for as long as eight years. Instead of jail time, they would work on such projects as clearing land mines and working in rural areas.

There will also be special tribunals set up to investigate allegations of war crimes.

Colombia's government and the rebels have given themselves a March 23 deadline for a final comprehensive peace agreement that would end more than 50 years of fighting that left 220,000 people dead and millions displaced.

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