Colombia pardons 110 FARC rebels

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for reaching an historic deal with the FARC (AFP Photo/GUILLERMO LEGARIA)

Bogota (AFP) - The Colombian government has pardoned at least 110 FARC rebels as part of a peace deal to end a 52-year conflict, the justice minister said Wednesday.

"I believe around 300 pardons could be granted in all," Justice Minister Jorge Londono told a press conference.

The pardons, as well as an amnesty law currently before Congress, apply only to "political crimes" and not more serious offenses such as killings, rape and torture, he said.

All pardons will be reviewed by a judge before taking effect, he added.

Another 5,500 jailed soldiers, police officers and other state agents convicted of crimes linked to the conflict could also be released if their offenses are minor, he said.

The issue of meting out justice has been a stumbling block as President Juan Manuel Santos seeks to end half a century of conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Voters narrowly rejected an initial version of the peace deal in October after opponents attacked it as too soft on the rebels.

Santos, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, then passed a revised version of the deal through Congress, where he has a majority.

But critics still say the deal grants impunity for crimes against humanity and will allow war criminals to hold public office.

Launched in 1964 from the ashes of a quashed peasant uprising, the FARC today has some 5,700 fighters who are preparing to disarm.

Another 4,500 members of the Marxist guerrilla group are in prison.

Colombia's conflict has killed more than 260,000 people and left 45,000 missing.

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