Colombian govt, FARC rebels to create truth commission

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Colombian soldiers carry equipment of one of ten soldiers killed by FARC guerrillas, in the rural area of Buenos Aires, department of Cauca, Colombia, on April 15, 2015

Colombian soldiers carry equipment of one of ten soldiers killed by FARC guerrillas, in the rural area of Buenos Aires, department of Cauca, Colombia, on April 15, 2015 (AFP Photo/Luis Robayo)

Havana (AFP) - The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas said Thursday they have agreed at peace talks to set up a truth commission to probe crimes committed during the country's half-century conflict.

The "extra-judicial" commission, whose creation is contingent upon reaching a final peace deal, will not have the power to punish perpetrators. And the information it uncovers cannot be used in court, the two sides said in a statement.

The agreement overcomes a major stumbling block in the peace negotiations. But it could meet with criticism from victims and family members who have called to bring perpetrators to justice for atrocities committed during the conflict.

"The parties pledge to contribute decisively to clarifying the truth on everything that has taken place during the conflict, including grave human rights violations and infractions of international humanitarian law," said the statement.

The commission "will not be judicial in nature nor be able to impose penalties on those who appear before it," added the statement, read out by Cuban diplomat Rodolfo Benitez at the close of the latest round of peace talks between the government and the FARC in Havana.

The body will be "independent and impartial," but the information it generates "cannot be transferred to judicial authorities to be used as evidence or attribute responsibility at trial," added the statement.

However, it made no mention of an amnesty for those who admit to crimes before the commission, which has been a feature of truth and reconciliation processes in countries such as South Africa.

- Justice vs. peace? -

The commission will be created for a period of three years and have 11 members, to be chosen by a seven-member committee named by both parties.

The issue of justice for egregious crimes committed during the war has been a sticking point in the negotiations, which began in the Cuban capital in November 2012.

President Juan Manuel Santos had pushed a plan calling for what he described as "transitional justice," but the FARC rejected it, saying it sought only to punish guerrillas while ignoring the army's own atrocities.

The FARC had said Wednesday that the peace talks should not be turned into a "trial" in which the government acts as judge.

"There will be no exchange of impunities, because state terrorism is not comparable to exercising the right to rebellion. No guerrilla is willing to do prison time for having exercised that right," they said.

That statement appeared to step back from a comment Sunday by FARC negotiator Pastor Alape that the guerrillas would not rule out some form of prison time if politicians, business people and military personnel involved in the war also went to jail.

The idea of creating a truth commission was first proposed by the guerrillas in August 2013, and endorsed by the government in March 2014.

The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and uprooted six million since the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were founded in 1964 in the aftermath of a peasant uprising.

Rights groups accuse all sides of committing atrocities in the messy conflict, which has at various times drawn in multiple leftist guerrilla groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers as well as the army.