Colombia's reparation to war victims sacred, government says

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Reparations to victims of Colombia’s five-decade war will be paid no matter how much the government’s finances are affected by a drop in oil revenue, because making good to the millions who suffered is “sacred,” a government official said on Wednesday.

Almost half of the 55 trillion pesos ($23 billion) earmarked for compensation over ten years has been paid out for Colombians who were raped, murdered or forced from their homes by Marxist rebels, right-wing paramilitary groups or the armed forces, said Paula Gaviria, head of the government victims unit.

“Payment to victims is totally sacred and we are doing what’s needed to find the resources,” she told Reuters at her Bogota office. President Juan Manuel Santos “has given instructions to find sources of financing to guarantee sustainability.”

A plunge in the price of oil in recent months has raised concern over how the government will come up with the money to cover as much as $37 billion in post-conflict development, as well as find additional cash to pay for a likely increase in the number of victims who come forward if peace is declared.

Oil earnings account for about 20 percent of government revenue and crude makes up nearly half of exports.

Santos in late 2012 launched talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in a bid to end years of bloodshed and allow millions of displaced to return home. Over 220,000 people have been killed since the war began in 1964.

The two sides are working through an agenda that includes land reform, an end to the illegal drugs trade, rebel participation in politics and a ceasefire, as well as reparations - the current topic.

The official victims register lists 7 million people, the bulk of whom have been forcibly driven from their homes. Some 5 million of those are eligible to receive reparations, Gaviria said.

The government has paid restitution of between $4,100 and $9,100 to 482,000 victims, or 1 percent of the 48 million population, since 2011, and expects to compensate 1 million by 2018, she said.

The number could rise to 14 percent, Gaviria said.

“The reality is that we are only just getting to know the dimension of the tragedy in Colombia ... Today’s new reality forces us to evaluate the application and allotment of costs.”

A 2003 peace accord led to the demobilization of about 35,000 paramilitary fighters and payments from hundreds of warlords who committed human rights abuses.

The government and FARC have both taken responsibility for their role in crimes against civilians.

Reporting by Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli