- Title: Colombia Congress approves amnesty for FARC rebels and members of the military
- Date: 28th December 2016
- Summary: VARIOUS OF SENATORS VOTING TO APPROVE AMNESTY LAW SCREEN SHOWING VOTE COUNT
- Embargoed: 12th January 2017 23:37
- Keywords: amnesty Congress FARC peace civil war Alvaro Uribe Juan Cristo
- Location: BOGOTA, COLOMBIA
- City: BOGOTA, COLOMBIA
- Country: Colombia
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace,Military Conflicts
- Reuters ID: LVA0025EST8HZ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Colombia's Congress on Wednesday (December 28) approved an amnesty law to protect thousands of demobilizing Marxist guerrilla fighters from prosecution for minor crimes committed during the country's 52-year war.
The law, a key part of a peace deal signed last month between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, will not include fighters who have committed war crimes or human rights violations.
The amnesty also applies to members of the country's military. It is the first in a series of laws tied to the deal that will be sped through congress in hopes of reassuring rebels who are beginning to move to special demobilization zones.
The bill passed in both the Senate and the lower house, despite vociferous opposition from the right-wing Democratic Center party, whose members abstained from voting. The coalition of President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this month, has a majority in Congress.
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said passage was critical to the peace process.
"It means that the path is clear to guarantee the demobilization and disarmament of FARC members in the first quarter of next year. It is no more and no less than the end of a 52-year conflict with the FARC. The FARC's abandonment of arms is now in the hands of the United Nations so that the entire process of implementing the accords can begin," he said.
Rebels found guilty of serious crimes like massacres, sexual violence or kidnapping will not fall under the amnesty and will instead serve alternative sentences such as land mine removal, to be determined by a special court.
But opposition congressmen, such as former president Alvaro Uribe, argued that not prosecuting rebels for crimes such as drug trafficking established a dangerous precedent.
"If you, National Unity senators, would at least establish that drug trafficking in any of its modalities cannot be a political crime, you would avoid setting a bad precedent for Colombia. Add what you want, that won't contradict the end of penal action or sentences to be suspended but at least eliminate the possibility that drug trafficking be a crime connected to politics," he said.
Some 7,000 FARC fighters are expected to lay down their arms over the next six months.
Other laws tied to the peace deal include rural reform, compensation to victims, removal of land mines and a United Nations-monitored cease-fire. The FARC will convert into a political party under the accord.
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