Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Political, Legal Barriers Face Historic Colombia Peace Deal

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Political, Legal Barriers Face Historic Colombia Peace Deal

Article excerpt

BOGOTA, Colombia * A stunning diplomatic breakthrough leaves a minefield of problems standing between Colombia and the tantalizing prospect of peace after generations of armed conflict.

President Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are celebrating Wednesday's announcement that they had crossed what many see as the point of no return after three years of peace talks by settling on a formula to punish human rights abuses.

They set a six-month deadline to sign a final agreement ending more than half a century of drug-fueled fighting.

Still to resolve, though, are legal obstacles, such as dozens of U.S. drug warrants for rebels and the threat of lawsuits by victims, as well as political considerations, such as widespread mistrust of the guerrillas' intentions and the puzzle of how to pay for peace at a time of economic malaise.

Under the terms, rebels who confess crimes to special tribunals, compensate victims and promise not to take up arms again will receive from five to a maximum of eight years of labor but no prison time.

War crimes by government forces will also be judged by the tribunals, and combatants on either side of the conflict caught lying will face penalties of up to 20 years in jail.

Some critics complain the provisions are too light on a guerrilla group accused of repeatedly kidnapping civilians, forced recruitment of child soldiers and sexual violence.

Human Rights Watch said it's difficult to imagine how such an arrangement could survive a serious review by Colombian or international courts.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, whose military offensive helped push a weakened FARC to the negotiating table, said it would generate more violence and fuel impunity by putting patriotic Colombian soldiers on the same witness stand as the "terrorists."

Uribe's comments foreshadow what's likely to be a bitter political fight to ratify any deal. While details are still being worked out, Santos has vowed to hold at least a symbolic referendum and congress also must pass legislation implementing any deal.

Polls show Colombians overwhelmingly loathe the FARC, and as recently as June a majority favored trying to defeat the rebels militarily instead of negotiating with them. …

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