May 22, 2013
Colombian lawmakers approve peace talks law
Colombia's Congress on Thursday passed a law that could pave the way for peace talks with leftist guerrillas, raising hopes for an end to the war, but drawing criticism from human rights groups that say the law is too lenient toward rebel leaders.
Despite being at its weakest in decades, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has stepped up attacks in recent months, showing it can still rock the Andean country with high-profile assaults.
Rebel leaders have given mixed signs that they may be keen to engage in peace talks and end almost five decades of bomb attacks on politicians and infrastructure, kidnappings, drug trafficking and clashes with security forces.
Negotiations are more likely now that the Senate has ratified the so-called Legal Framework for Peace, which calls for soft sentences for FARC leaders if a peace deal is reached, providing they confess their crimes and compensate victims.
"This is the price to pay for peace, we have to be upfront with people about it," said Senator Hernan Andrade, a member of the governing "U" party.
An overwhelming majority of senators voted for the law, which bars guerrillas involved in human rights abuses from public office.
Under President Juan Manuel Santos, government forces have dealt hard blows to the FARC, killing top commanders and dismantling guerrilla units. Yet Santos has offered the rebels an olive branch on condition they release hostages and halt attacks.