"We understand and accept that a fundamental part of the Justice and Peace Law lies in the confession of the truth of what occurred in the recent history of our national tragedy," said the letter, signed by all the leading members of the paramilitaries.
 
"The knowledge of the full truth is decisive for the strengthening of democracy, national reconciliation and forgiveness."
 
"The truth will set us free"

Paramilitary leaders in an open letter to Colombia's president
The paramilitaries were formed as private armies in the 1980s to help land owners protect their property from left-wing guerrillas who had been fighting since the 1960s.

They targeted the guerrillas, their civilian supporters, civic leaders, human-rights workers, journalists and eventually anyone who revealed the extent of their infiltration of Colombia's public institutions.

"We ask publicly that those who urged us on, collaborators and direct beneficiaries, the businessmen, industrialists and political leaders ... members of the security forces, join us in this task without apprehension or fear," said the letter.

Politicians investigated
 
Authorities are investigating five politicians, including a former governor and two senators, for their close ties with the paramilitaries. Some of them are accused of murder and others of using the paramilitaries to help steal public funds, kill political opponents and extort votes from a terrorized politician.

A number of other prominent politicians are expected to be investigated soon. The paramilitaries have previously said that they controlled as much as 35 per cent of the country's congress.

As part of the peace deal the leaders will stand trial in special tribunals where they can be sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison.

Leaders must confess to all their crimes. If they don't, they can be judged for each crime they failed to admit, and be tried in regular courts where they would be likely receive substantially longer sentences.

Critics of the peace deal have said that it is too lenient and encourages the paramilitaries not to tell the whole truth.