The Colombian government and leftist FARC rebels say they will work together to locate thousands of people who disappeared during more than 50 years of conflict, as the two sides take the final steps towards a peace deal.
Colombia’s chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said on Sunday that the agreement aims to ease “the profound pain of relatives of the disappeared” that have lived in permanent uncertainty for years.
The agreement was “another step for peace” President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his legacy on successfully reaching a deal, said on Twitter.
According to the deal announced by representatives of the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, both sides agreed to give information on people who died, whether in combat or as victims of kidnappings, force disappearances or massacres.
The Latin American country’s attorney general estimates 52,000 people have disappeared during Latin America’s longest war, which has killed some 220,000 people and displaced millions. Victim groups say between 70,000 and 100,000 people may have gone missing.
The agreement addresses a key issue at the negotiations, which reached a major breakthrough in September when the two sides vowed to sign a deal by March.
De la Calle said at a news conference in the Colombian capital, Bogota, that an independent commission would be created to oversee the search for the missing.
The government and rebels will also furnish the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with information about the missing, so the charity can help design search plans, Reuters reported.
Human rights advocates and families of the disappeared have warned that unless more bodies are located, exhumed, identified and returned to their families, Colombia risks handicapping its post-conflict development.
The government and FARC have been in peace talks in Havana for nearly three years. They recently set a deadline of March 23 to reach a final agreement, which would then be put before Colombian voters for ratification.