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July 22, 2017

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Victims of Colombia's armed conflict testify

HAVANA--Victims of the decades-old conflict pitting FARC rebels against government forces testified at peace talks Saturday, pushing for "truth" to form the foundation of any accord.

The 12 victims, some of whom came face-to-face with representatives of the perpetrators for the first time, testified during a closed-door session that lasted nearly nine hours.

"During the day, we agreed that truth is the basis for peace," they said in a statement presented to the press by six of the victims.

They also said they stood against an "impunity exchange" in which military members and guerrillas who committed crimes during the half-century conflict would be granted immunity from punishment as a condition for peace.

'Unprecedented step'

A woman whose disabled son was kidnapped and murdered by soldiers was among a group of witnesses to testify at the peace talks.

"This is an unprecedented step of immense significance," President Juan Manuel Santos said in Bogota ahead of the testimony, the first time victims of Colombia's five-decade armed conflict have addressed the talks.

The closed-door hearing began at 9:00 a.m. (1300 GMT) in a residential complex in Havana that normally hosts visiting foreign dignitaries.

Reparations for victims is one of the most sensitive items on a six-point agenda for the talks in the Cuban capital because each side blames the other for violence that has killed 220,000 people and caused more than five million others to flee their homes.

The dozen witnesses — the first of a group of 60 who will testify — include people who have lost loved ones in some of the worst massacres that have rocked Colombia in recent years.

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