Colombia president announces peace talks with FARC rebels

September 5, 2012
By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times

BOGOTA, Colombia — Prospects for an end to more than four decades of armed rebellion in Colombia inched closer to reality Tuesday as President Juan Manuel Santos announced that his government had agreed to start peace talks with the country’s largest insurgent group.

The first open negotiations in a decade between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will start early next month in Oslo and then shift to Cuba, and will span “months, not years,” Santos said. He was referring to the open-ended, three-year talks that collapsed in 2002 after accomplishing little more than disillusioning most Colombians and leaving the FARC militarily stronger.

Santos is taking a political risk in launching new negotiations after that failure: Many Colombians, including his predecessor, former President Alvaro Uribe, remain openly skeptical that an agreement with the rebels can be reached and even critical of efforts to try.

Conscious of that cynicism, 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.”

Santos said he was taking the chance in hope of ending “once and for all this violence between sons of the same nation.”

The president acknowledged that he feared raising false hope. He cautioned that an agreement signed with the FARC last month is not a peace deal but a “road map” for a process that will have to yield quick and measurable results, suggesting limited patience. He said military operations would continue unabated.

Alvaro Jimenez, director of the Colombian Campaign Against Mines, a civil society group, said both sides come to the peace table in weakened positions. The FARC has lost standing militarily and morally with battlefield setbacks, its kidnappings and alleged drug trafficking. The government, meanwhile, has been stained by links to right-wing paramilitary groups and an estimated 3,000 extrajudicial killings over about 15 years.

“The prospect of peace is an opportunity for reconciliation among Colombians fed up with massacres, political alienation, persistent inequality and the exclusion of huge sectors of the society,” Jimenez said, adding that 10,000 Colombians have been killed or wounded by land mines over 20 years.

As for the timing of the talks, there are possible motives for each side.

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