Colombia's peace deal with militias in crisis

Colombia 's peace process with far-right paramilitaries was in crisis Friday after the country's constitutional court rejected key provisions of the deal. Ernesto Baez, a leading commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC, said in an interview with RCN Radio that the ruling was "a mortal blow for peace in this country."

"This ends the essential tools that have motivated more than 30,000 fighters to lay down their arms and closes whatever hope of reconciliation with armed groups," Baez said. The constitutional court late Thursday overturned key components of the Justice and Peace Law that resulted from peace negotiations with the paramilitary groups.

It ruled paramilitaries convicted of crimes prior to the peace process must serve their original sentences. That would mean warlords who took part in massacres would serve decades in jail, including former AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso who was sentenced in absence to 40 years for his role in a massacre of farmers.

The minister of interior and justice, Sabas Pretelt, told Caracol radio that the government was "perplexed and worried" by the ruling, which cannot be appealed. Leaders of the AUC the umbrella group of far-right paramilitary forces created to fight leftist rebels had wanted a deal that would not force them to spend their lives behind bars for actions during Colombia's four-decade civil war.

The court also ruled that the assets of paramilitary leaders acquired legally or illegally should be used toward reparations for victims of the paramilitary terror. The court did not change the maximum sentence of eight years for warlords convicted of crimes after the peace deal. However, it ruled that the paramilitaries would not be able to deduct the time spent in negotiations, as they had agreed to with the government.

The paramilitaries say they have demobilized all their blocs and have handed over more than 15,000 weapons. The groups are responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Colombia 's civil war, as they carried out massacres across this country in the name of a national offensive against the rebels and those accused of supporting them, reports the AP.

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