September 17, 2015 / 4:33 PM / in 2 years

Colombian rebels step closer towards becoming legal political group

HAVANA (Reuters) - Colombia's leftist rebels said Thursday for the first time during three years of peace talks that they were ready to discuss steps towards becoming a legal political movement.

The government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had previously reached an agreement on transforming the rebel group into an unarmed political party.

The two sides have been in talks in Cuba for nearly three years to negotiate an end to Latin America's longest war, which has killed some 220,000 people over 50 years.

"Regarding the reintegration of the FARC into civilian life, we are ready to address and discuss the procedures for the transition from an armed organization to an open political movement," the rebel group said in a statement read by lead negotiator Ivan Marquez.

The insurgent group of about 8,000 combatants, which the United States and European Union consider a terrorist organization, also announced it was close to an agreement with the government on reparations for victims.

The government and the FARC have reached other agreements on land reform, the fight against drug trafficking and demining. If they can reach a comprehensive peace deal, it would be placed before Colombian voters for approval.

Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Edited by Jaime Hamre and Bernadette Baum

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