Colombia's peace talks with guerrillas to begin in October in Norway
By Helen Murphy, Reuters
September 6, 2012, 11:20 am TWN
BOGOTA -- Colombia's peace talks with leftist FARC guerrillas to try and end Latin America's longest-running insurgency will begin next month in Norway before moving to Cuba, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Tuesday.
Unlike past failed negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, there will be no cease-fire this time, Santos said in a national TV address.
"I ask the Colombian people for patience and strength," Santos said, announcing the talks would start in the first half of October. "There's no doubt it's time to turn the page."
While Colombians are hopeful Santos will succeed, he faces a monumental task to reach peace with the FARC, which has holed up in Colombia's jungle territory since 1964 and imposed tough demands in past peace negotiations.
In a video message broadcast to journalists in Cuba, the FARC's bearded leader Rodrigo Londono, known by his war alias "Timochenko," urged a "civilized dialogue" to end the bloodshed.
Santos, 61, who is at the mid-point of a four-year term, had repeatedly said he would consider talks with the FARC only if he was certain the drug-funded group would negotiate in good faith.
"There are people like me that don't know a single day of peace," said Santos, son of one of Colombia's most influential families that founded the daily newspaper El Tiempo. "We have to take the dream of living in peace and make it a reality."
Established almost five decades ago as a communist-inspired peasant army, which later came to depend on drug-trafficking, the FARC joins talks this time from a severely weakened position.
Battered by a decade-long U.S.-backed Colombian military offensive, the rebels have lost as much as half their fighting force, reducing their ability to launch major attacks on the government. The rebels number around 8,000 fighters now.
Still, they are by no means spent and in recent months have stepped up assaults on economic infrastructure like oil and mining installations in a bid, some analysts say, to come to the negotiating table from a position of relative strength.