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Latin America

Land reform agreed at Colombian talks in Havana

Colombia's leftist FARC rebels and the Bogota government say they have agreed on agrarian reform, a key part of what could become a peace settlement. The talks began in Oslo and have been held in Havana since November.

A joint communique released on Sunday in host-country Cuba said Colombia's government and FARC rebels had agreed on reforms for Colombia's rural population.

The two sides did not provide details but both said their agreement enabled them to move on to five other topic areas. Both longstanding Colombian foes said the land concessions were not final until an overall peace accord was reached.

"Today we have a real opportunity to attain peace through dialogue," said the government's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle (pictured right in photo greeting FARC delegates).

The chief negotiator of FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Ivan Marquez said several matters still need to be worked out.

Other topics still unresolved

They draft agrarian accord reportedly calls for the provision of land to local rural residents. The government would build up services and infrastructure in rural areas as measures to end the country's long history of social and economic inequality.

Other major issues yet to be resolved when the two sides return to the bargaining table on June 11 include drug trafficking, victim compensation and how FARC rebels can be integrated into Colombia's future political deliberations.

The government also insists that senior rebels accept jail terms as part of the peace deal. The rebels have ruled out prosecution by a state they say is neglecting its own people.

Communique welcomed

Colombia's independent Institute of Peace and Development Studies applauded Sunday's announcement.

"It is the first agreement reached in 40 years of conflict on the crucial issue of land," said the institute's president Camilo Gonzalez. "This confirms that this (peace) process is different from those of the past."

Alfredo Rangel, director of the Center for Security and Democracy at Bogota's Sergio Arboleda University said details were still scant. "This is a partial accord," he said.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who faces a re-election campaign in 2014, has said a deal must be reached by November or his government will pull out.

FARC commander Jorge Torres Victoria told the news magazine Semana that the president's timetable may not be realistic. "We don't want a peace process express," he said.

Fourth attempt

The Havana talks are the fourth attempt since the 1980s to bring peace to Colombia, which has been at war ever since the rebels took up arms in 1964 as a communist agrarian reform movement.

A US-backed military buildup that began in 2000 reduced the FARC's ranks to about 9,000 fighters. Several top FARC commanders were killed. The rebels, operating from remote corners of Colombia, still insist that they are a potent force.

Norway and Cuba have served as guarantors for the talks, with Chile and Venezuela as observers. The discussions are set to resume in Havana on June 11.

ipj/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP)