President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to the northern province of Cordoba on Wednesday to preside over the restoration of lands stolen from 60 peasant families by the founders of Colombia's murderous AUC militia movement.

"Where the murders reigned, the peasants return," Santos said to an enthusiasic ovation.

"You who have suffered from violence like nobody else understand the significance of seizing these lands from the Castaño clan," the president told a crowd of some 400 people in a rural area near Monteria.

Besides the return of 272 hectares (671 acres) of land, each of the 60 families will receive 45 million pesos (nearly $25,000) to help them rebuild.

Brothers Carlos, Fidel and Vicente Castaño, who dominated the AUC, began buying land throughout Cordoba in 1990, ostensibly to carry out an agrarian reform.

They then donated 120 parcels on the Santa Paula estate to peasant families.

After handing over the titles, however, the Castaños demanded that the peasants hand over part of their profits and sought to dictate how the farmers used the land.

Eventually, the brothers forced the families off the land, paying only token compensation.

"I feel very content, very happy," Manuel, one of the beneficiaries of the restoration, told Efe.

But some of his neighbors said they were afraid to return to Santa Paula, given Tuesday's murder in Cordoba of land restitution activist Ever Antonio Cordero.

The AUC killed more than 250,000 people over a little more than two decades, according to one of the thousands of U.S. State Department cables disseminated by WikiLeaks. EFE