BOGOTA - Colombia's Congress on Thursday passed a law that could pave the way for peace talks with leftist guerrillas, raising hopes for an end to the war, but drawing criticism from human rights groups that say the law is too lenient toward rebel leaders.

Despite being at its weakest in decades, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has stepped up attacks in recent months, showing it can still rock the Andean country with high-profile assaults.

Rebel leaders have given mixed signs that they may be keen to engage in peace talks and end almost five decades of bomb attacks on politicians and infrastructure, kidnappings, drug trafficking and clashes with security forces.

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