Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has asked for forgiveness and held the state responsible for the killing of thousands of members of a leftist political party in the 1980s. On Thursday (15 September), he apologised for the assassinations and vowed to prevent such an incident in the future.

According to reports, around 5,000 leftist activists belonging to the Patriotic Union (UP) were killed by right-wing paramilitary groups three decades ago. They were killed after the political party was formed in the 1980s during peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"That tragedy should never have happened, and we must recognize that the government didn't take sufficient measures to impede and prevent the assassinations, attacks and other violations even though there was evidence the persecution was taking place," Santos said during an event addressing 200 survivors and family members of UP victims.

The development comes less than two weeks before he will sign a peace agreement with the Marxist FARC rebels. Under the agreement – which will be signed on 26 September and approved in a national vote on 2 October – the FARC soldiers will put down their weapons, leave their jungle camps and gradually reintegrate into the Colombian society, with the help of government training programmes.

Their safety has been ensured by the government, which has also said that they are welcome to launch a political party.

"I make the solemn commitment before you today to take all the necessary measures and to give all the guarantees to make sure that never again in Colombia will a political organization have to face what the UP suffered," the president said.

Meanwhile, on Monday the FARC apologised for abducting thousands of people to fund its conflict with the government. With this peace deal, the two parties are preparing to end the 52-year bloody insurgency that has claimed lives of more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

Colombia's President
Colombian President Santos has accepted the state’s hand in the killing of thousands of members of leftist political party in 1980s  Reuters