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Colombia, rebels reach deal on land reform

27 may 2013, 16:56
Colombia and leftist FARC rebels said Sunday they have reached a deal on land reform, one of the most contentious items in negotiations aimed at ending five decades of insurgency, AFP reports.

The agreement between Bogota and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would compensate those who have lost land or were displaced from their property, said Cuban diplomat Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, whose country played host to the months-long negotiations.

So far, the talks at the Havana Convention Center have focused almost entirely on land reform -- the first of five agenda items to be discussed.

Land distribution was one of the triggers of the protracted conflict in Colombia, where gaping inequality divides wealthy landowners and poor peasants.

The agreement on agrarian development "seeks to reverse the effects of the conflict and that the victims of forced displacement and looting obtain restitution," said Fernandez de Cossio, as he read a joint statement from the parties.

The step, the first major advance in six months of peace talks in Havana, was widely celebrated -- but it is part of a larger package still being bargained.

The joint statement warns that the advance on agrarian reform is "conditioned on reaching an agreement on the totality of the agenda," because the talks are based on the principle that "nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gushed about the success in a message on his Twitter account.

"We sincerely celebrate this fundamental step in Havana towards a full agreement to put an end to half a century of conflict," Santos wrote.

"We will continue the peace process with prudence and responsibility."

The leftist leader of neighboring Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, quickly congratulated the Santos administration and the rebel negotiators on the advances.

One of the rebel negotiators, Pablo Catatumbo, even told the influential magazine Semana that Santos should be re-elected in the 2014 presidential vote to guarantee the peace process. The FARC rebels had earlier said they did not support the president's re-election.

Santos has until November to decide whether to run, though analysts say he will go for another term -- despite his open disagreement with his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe. Santos was Uribe's defense minister.

Both delegations will take a break of several days, and then begin talks on political participation, the second agenda point.

Other agenda items include illicit drugs, decommissioning weapons and how to handle the victims of the armed conflict.

The FARC, Colombia's largest guerrilla group with some 8,000 fighters, has been in talks with Bogota since November 19 to end their nearly 50-year-old insurgency, the longest-running in Latin America.

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