Murderous gangs are fearsome obstacle to Colombia's long-elusive goal of land reform

Members of 40 families driven from a farm in northern Colombia a decade ago are afraid to return, even though a court has now declared them the rightful owners.

They abandoned the farm they shared in the foothills of the Montes de Maria range after being caught in the crossfire between far-right miltias and leftist rebels.

The land then repeatedly switched hands before being sold to a Venezuela businessman. But in April, a court returned the 770-acre (310-hectare) farm to the families. Still, none has gone back to raise cattle and cultivate cassava, corn and tobacco.

The success of a government plan to return such properties to their owners is now considered central to peace talks in Cuba with Colombia's main leftist group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.