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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's Congress on Wednesday approved an amnesty law to protect thousands of demobilizing Marxist guerrilla fighters from prosecution for minor crimes committed during the country's 52-year war.
The law, a key part of a peace deal signed last month between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, will not include fighters who have committed war crimes or human rights violations.
The amnesty also applies to members of the country's military. It is the first in a series of laws tied to the deal that will be sped through congress in hopes of reassuring rebels who are beginning to move to special demobilization zones.
The bill passed in both the Senate and the lower house, despite vociferous opposition from the right-wing Democratic Center party, whose members abstained from voting. The coalition of President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this month, has a majority in Congress.
Some 7,000 FARC fighters are expected to lay down their arms over the next six months.
Rebels found guilty of serious crimes like massacres, sexual violence or kidnapping will not fall under the amnesty and will instead serve alternative sentences such as land mine removal, to be determined by a special court.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the FARC and the government said they would establish how many rebels are not eligible for the amnesty by Jan. 30 at the latest.
Other laws tied to the peace deal include rural reform, compensation to victims, removal of land mines and a United Nations-monitored ceasefire. The FARC will convert into a political party under the accord.
Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio and Sandra Maler