BOGOTA, Colombia -- Prospects for an end to four decades of civil strife in Colombia inched closer to reality Tuesday as President Juan Manuel Santos announced that his government had agreed to start peace talks in Norway with the country’s largest rebel group in a bid to end the conflict.
The first open negotiations in a decade between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will start in early October and span "months, not years," Santos said.
Santos was referring to the open-ended, three-year negotiations that collapsed in 2002 after accomplishing little more than disillusioning most Colombians and leaving the FARC militarily stronger.
The new talks will begin in Oslo and then move to Cuba, Santos said. Representatives of the Venezuelan and Chilean governments will act as facilitators.
Conscious that many Colombians, including former President Alvaro Uribe, are deeply skeptical of the talks, Santos said he personally was accepting responsibility for launching the negotiations.
“There comes a moment in history when you have to take risks to arrive at a solution,” Santos said during his 18-minute speech broadcast from the presidential palace in Bogota. “This is one of those moments.”
According to terms hammered over six months of exploratory talks, the negotiations will focus on forging agreements on five main themes: agrarian reform, the rebels’ post-accord political participation; the insurgents’ reintegration into society; an end to drug trafficking, which the FARC allegedly uses to finance its activities; and ensuring the rights of the long conflict's victims.
At a brief news conference in Havana, FARC representatives showed a recorded video of leader Timoleon Jimenez saying that despite the possibility that the Colombian government “will play the same tricks as last time,” the rebels agreed to negotiate because “peace is worth taking on the most difficult challenges.”
In the past, the rebels have insisted that the talks take place in Colombia and that they be granted a demilitarized zone, conditions they are waiving this time around.
-- Chris Kraul
Photo: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, left, shakes hands with Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon as other Cabinet ministers surround him in Bogota on Tuesday after Santos announced the signing of a preliminary agreement to launch peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Credit: Javier Casella, Colombia's Presidential Office / Associated Press.