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Colombia, FARC Announce Breakthrough in Peace Talks

  • VOA News

Cuban President Raul Castro, center, encourages Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, left, and FARC Commander Timoleon Jimenez to shake hands after the last obstacle to a peace deal was overcome at talks in Havana, Sept. 23, 2015.

Cuban President Raul Castro, center, encourages Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, left, and FARC Commander Timoleon Jimenez to shake hands after the last obstacle to a peace deal was overcome at talks in Havana, Sept. 23, 2015.

Colombia's president and FARC rebels reached a major breakthrough late Wednesday in the effort to end more than 50 years of bloodshed.

President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leaders agreed to sign a final peace accord by March. The deal was reached in Havana, where the two sides have been holding three years of peace talks sponsored by Cuba and Norway.

Santos made his first appearance at the talks Wednesday to announce the breakthrough, which came when the two sides finally agreed on the touchy issue of justice for crimes committed by the rebels.

The deal would grant a general amnesty to rebel fighters, but not in cases of such serious offenses such as war crimes, rape and kidnappings. Rebels who confess to less serious crimes may not have to go to prison, but could instead be told to compensate their victims and have their freedom of movement restricted.

FARC negotiators have always vowed to keep their fighters out of jail.

The rebels also must disarm within 60 days of the March deadline. The details of how they will give up their weapons are still to be worked out.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned his congratulations to Santos.

"The Colombian people deserve a just and durable peace, and this will be their victory," Kerry said.

The leftist FARC rebels have been fighting a guerrilla war to topple Colombian governments since 1964, killing thousands. They have used drug trafficking and kidnappings to fund their war.

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