Poor farmers could be the winners in deal between Colombia, rebels

FARC-EP head Ivan Marquez (C) shakes hands with Venezuelan OAS ambassador Roy Chaderton (R) in Havana on Sunday.

Story highlights

  • Land reform agreement is the first of six points that negotiators need to broker
  • FARC has engaged in decades-long bloody struggle against the government
  • The land agreement would take effect only if an overall peace deal is reached
  • Land not being used would be turned over to poor Colombians to cultivate

Peace negotiators trying to end Colombia's blood-drenched, five-decade old civil war Sunday announced an agreement on land reform between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

The land reform agreement is the first of six points that negotiators need to broker to reach a peace deal.

"It's a historic change, a rebirth of the Colombian countryside which could lead to an end to the conflict," said the government's lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle.

Under the agreement, land not being used would be turned over to poor Colombians to cultivate. The government would provide loans and credits to the farmers.

Impoverished areas of the countryside would also receive improvements in infrastructure, health care and housing.

De la Calle said land that's privately owned would not be affected.

"Urgent changes to the establishment are knocking on the door of the state, demanding citizen participation in political decisions and choices that would guarantee them a future with dignity," said FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez.

Both sides cautioned Sunday that the land agreement would take effect only if an overall peace deal was reached.

Government negotiators said that any deal that is struck would have to first be approved by national referendum before being implemented.

The land deal was the first major sign of progress after six months of negotiations between the government and rebels in Havana, Cuba.

Cuba and Norway are serving as guarantors for the talks, with Chile and Venezuela acting as observers.

"What has happened so far is part of a greater agreement which we hope to accomplish in the coming months," said Cuba's representative to the talks, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio.

Negotiators still have to tackle the difficult issues of how FARC rebels would disarm and the future of top rebel leaders who have been sentenced to prison for drug trafficking, murder and kidnapping.

FARC leaders charge that government forces have illegally executed rebels and allowed right-wing paramilitary groups to carry out massacres.

Thousands of Colombians have been killed and millions of others displaced during the civil war.

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