Colombia’s Congress toiled late Tuesday night in the first of several special sessions to authorize a critical component of an eventual peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group.
The nation’s House and Senate begun work on reforms to the 1997 Law of Public Order that would allow the government to set up special zones to house former FARC rebels during the demobilization and disarmament phases following a peace deal.
The law grants special powers to the government in negotiating with illegal armed groups and must be renewed periodically.
Congress must still debate and pass the reforms before they take effect.
Following the Law of Public Order’s initial passage, Colombia offered FARC rebels designated territory in the late 1990s as a home base to encourage the start of peace talks under the presidency of Andrés Pastrana. But the plan eventually failed, prolonging an already decades-old civil conflict.
Minister of Interior Fernando Cristo asserted on Tuesday that the latest effort is different.
Designated territory would be provided only following a peace agreement rather than prior to initiating one, for example. The United Nations will also be heavily involved in overseeing the post-peace process for at least one year, he said, following a January Security Council resolution setting up a special monitoring body.
Full details of the terms for creating the special zones, including their locations and numbers have not yet been decided as part of ongoing talks between the FARC and Colombian government in Havana.
Another component of the Law of Public Order reforms considered by Congress would allow President Juan Manuel Santos to request suspension of arrest warrants for FARC members who lay down weapons and seek refuge in demobilized areas.
The measure would help the government enable a transition back into civil society for former guerrilla soldiers not found guilty of serious crimes.
President Santos has stated that a final peace agreement will be ready for signing by March 23.