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May 30, 2017

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US leader urges Colombian leftist rebels to lay down their weapons

BOGOTA -- U.S. President Barack Obama urged leftist guerrillas on Monday to lay down their weapons and reach a peace deal with the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in an interview broadcast on local radio.

Colombia's government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels launched peace talks in Oslo on Oct. 18 aimed at ending their nearly five decades of conflict.

"My hope," said Obama, "is that we can create a Colombia that is peaceful and prosperous, and that the FARC lay down its arms and recognize that, even though there are disagreements with the government, they should engage in a political process."

Obama, speaking to W Radio, said that the United States has "worked closely with the Colombian government for many years now to try to bring peace to Colombia, and we have seen significant progress."

Colombia has received some US$8 billion in U.S. military aid over the past decade in the so-called Plan Colombia, aimed at battling drug trafficking and rebel groups.

U.S. officials have made it clear that Washington fully supports Bogota's effort to reach peace with the FARC.

"We're very ... supportive of their effort to get to the peace that they deserve," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Oct. 17.

"We're obviously not involved, we're not in the middle of it," she added. "But we are being briefed regularly by the Colombians."

When peace talks were announced in early September, Obama congratulated Santos for demonstrating "an unwavering commitment to seeking a durable peace and ensuring a better life for all Colombians through its security and social inclusion policies."

In the interview broadcast Monday, Obama also said that the drug trafficking that helps fund the insurgency is not only a Colombian problem, and that it should be dealt with as a regional problem.

Obama acknowledged that work needed to be done to reduce the U.S. demand for illegal drugs.

Colombia is one of the world's top producers of coca, the source plant for cocaine.

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