Colombian president confirms peace talks with FARC; first round Oslo in October
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has confirmed his government is holding exploratory talks with the country's largest rebel group, the FARC. In an address on state TV, Mr Santos said he was fulfilling his duty to seek peace. Media reports say a deal on further talks was reached in Cuba with the help of Venezuela and Norway.
The Marxist oriented FARC have been fighting the Colombian government since 1964. President Santos said he was also open to a dialogue with Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the ELN.
Santos gave no details about the exploratory talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that have been increasingly involved in the narcotics trade with the drug lords.
According to the regional media network Telesur negotiators from the two sides signed a preliminary agreement in the Cuban capital, Havana, on Monday. Telesur said the first round of peace talks would be held in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on 5 October. Negotiators would then continue holding talks in Havana, it added.
Referring to previous failed talks with the FARC during the government of then-president Andres Pastrana, Mr Santos said his government had learned from the mistakes committed in the past.
President Santos said military operations would continue and that each centimetre of the country would have a military presence.
As part of the peace talks launched in 1998, Mr Pastrana had granted the FARC a safe haven the size of Switzerland in the south-east to help move peace talks along. The zone was off-limits to the army and the rebels used it to train and regroup.
Pastrana ordered the rebels out of their safe haven after the peace talks failed in February 2002, but part of the area remains a rebel stronghold to this day.
Last August, the FARC leader at the time, Alfonso Cano, said the group was ready for peace negotiations. Since then, rumours have circulated about secret meetings between government representatives and the rebels in the Cuban capital.
Upon taking office just over two years ago, President Santos signalled his willingness to open peace talks. But he has come under severe criticism for this, from his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
FARC also re-stated their openness to talks in March. Following the death of Alfonso Cano in a bombing raid, the FARC new leader, known as Timochenko, said it was worth betting on peace.
Colombian security forces have achieved a series of successes against the group in recent years, killing some of its key leaders and arresting many others. But officials estimate that some 8,000 Farc guerrillas are still fighting Latin America's longest-running insurgency.
Referring the ELN, Mr Santos said that if the group is serious about an end to the armed conflict, it too could be part of peace talks. In a recent interview, ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez said he was willing to hold negotiations but refused to end the group's campaign of kidnapping and bomb attacks ahead of any talks.