Colombia and its rebels reach land reform deal

Bogota, May 27: Colombia and that country's largest rebel group has announced an agreement on one of their main bones of contention land reform the fruit of more than half a year of slow-moving peace negotiations in the Cuban capital.

Both said the agreement constituted a major breakthrough, although several key details are still to be worked out in the com
ing weeks and months.

They did not release the text of the accord, but said it dealt with issues like property rights, access to land and rural infrastructure development.

"This agreement will be the start of a radical transformation of the countryside," read a joint communique. The parties must now hammer out understandings in five other areas, starting with the political reintegration of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia fighters, another highly sensitive issue.

The two sides have stressed that no concessions are final until a complete peace accord is reached. But for one day, at least, the long-time enemies seemed optimistic an important step had been taken toward ending the half-century long conflict.

"Today we have a real opportunity to attain peace through dialogue," said the government's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle. "To support this process is to believe in Colombia."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos added in a tweet sent from Bogota: "We celebrate, truly, this fundamental step taken in Havana toward a full agreement to put an end to half a century of conflict."

Both sides say land rights lie at the heart of Colombia's armed conflict. About 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of land has been stolen from rural farmers by armed groups during the conflict, with twice that amount abandoned by those fleeing the violence.

The rebels say some land has also been expropriated by the government fraudulent and corrupt processes, while the government says the FARC has also illegally forced people off land.

Much of the land wound up in the hands of wealthy ranchers and drug traffickers, or was laundered and sold on to agribusinesses.

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