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HURDAL/BOGOTA: Colom-bian and FARC rebel negotiators announced they will meet in Cuba in mid-November to start substantive peace talks where they will seek to bring an end to almost half a century of bloody conflict, according to a joint declaration issued in Norway yesterday.
The talks, which opened in Norway, are the latest in a long history of attempts to resolve the war which has left tens of thousands dead and millions displaced from their homes since the establishment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in 1964.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is betting that a decade of US-backed blows against the FARC has battered the group to the point where it will seriously seek to end the war after so many attempts have ended in shambles.
“The peace process will be successful if it’s serious, realistic and efficient,” chief Colombian negotiator Humberto de la Calle said in Hurdal, Norway. The negotiations move to Cuba on November 15.
In a carefully stage-managed event, Norwegian organisers were able to avoid what had became a symbol of the failure of the last attempt at peace in 1999 - an empty chair. Back then, a red-faced President Andres Pastrana sat next to the empty chair of FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who failed to turn up.
The two sides yesterday appeared jointly at a table separated by representatives of Cuba and Norway. It was the first time they have met publicly in a decade.
Rebel and government negotiators filed into a hotel conference room together in Norway, but did not talk or shake hands. The last peace talks were held in a tent deep inside Colombia’s jungles.
Peace with the FARC will by no means end violence in Colombia as drug trafficking and criminal gangs - many born out of the demobilization of right-wing paramilitary groups - will continue to operate across the nation.
Although ten years of strikes against the FARC - which has funded its war by kidnapping, extortion and drugs - have cut their ranks by more than half and put their leadership on the run, defeating the rebels with military means alone has proved difficult, leaving a negotiated deal as the best alternative.
“We’ve come to look for peace with social justice in Colombia,” Ivan Marquez, head of the FARC delegation and member of the group’s ruling seven-member secretariat, said. But in the first sign of discord, Marquez slammed foreign oil and mining interests in Colombia, while de la Calle said that foreign investment would not be considered during talks.