Colombian peace negotiators vow to speed up talks

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (left) and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez shake hands as Cuban President Raul Castro (centre) holds their hands during a meeting in Havana, on September 23, 2015 (AFP Photo/Luis Acosta) (AFP)

Havana (AFP) - With a key stumbling block in Colombia's peace talks now resolved, negotiators pledged Thursday to speed up the process and meet a six-month deadline for ending Latin America's last guerrilla conflict.

The timeframe was announced Wednesday by President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the leftist FARC rebel army, Timoleon Jimenez.

They revealed it along with the news that the two sides have reached agreement on the critical issue of justice for crimes committed during the 50-year conflict. It has killed more than 220,000 people and uprooted six million.

The justice issue had been the one preventing progress in the negotiations, which began in November 2012 in Havana.

"We can say without excessive rhetoric that peace is about to break out in Colombia," government delegation chief Humberto de la Calle told reporters. "I think we have begun the countdown for war to die and life to win."

Asked by AFP if the two sides will meet the deadline, he answered: "Definitely yes."

The agreement on justice meets international standards and Colombians' desire that the war not end with impunity for abuses, he said.

"Both delegations received instructions to hit the accelerator and we are going to keep working hard to meet the deadline," de la Calle said.

The delegation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia also expressed confidence a final deal can be sealed in six months.

Under a final peace deal, the rebels would not surrender their weapons to the government but to a third party such as the United Nations for them to be destroyed, said the number two official on the government side, Sergio Jaramillo.

That disarming would begin 60 days after a final accord is signed, he added.

The new deal on justice features amnesty for "political and related crimes," though it will not cover crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, or other grave violations, said officials from Cuba and Norway, the countries mediating the talks.

The deal also includes special courts with both Colombian and foreign judges to try those charged with the most serious crimes.

Both FARC members and government forces will be subject to their jurisdiction.

Those who admit their crimes will get reduced sentences of five to eight years. Those who do not will face sentences of up to 20 years.