Colombia seeks Farc peace talks
Colombia's government is seeking peace with the country's biggest rebel group, the Farc, and could consider also holding talks with a second paramilitary movement to end five decades of war, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said today.
In a televised address from the presidential palace, Mr Santos said his government would learn from the mistakes of so many previous leaders who tried but failed to clinch a lasting ceasefire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
"Since the first day of my government I have completed my constitutional obligation to find peace. With that aim, we have had exploratory conversations with the Farc to seek an end to the conflict," he said, confirming weeks of swirling rumours that his government had started behind-the-scenes discussions.
He added that the military would continue its operations "throughout every centimetre" of Colombia while talks continued.
Mr Santos did not provide further details, but said he would reveal more about the talks in the coming days.
A successful peace agreement with the rebels would secure him a place in history as the leader who ended a conflict that has killed tens of thousands over the years and left the Andean nation's reputation in tatters.
In response to an interview published yesterday with the head of the nation's second biggest rebel group, Mr Santos said the National Liberation Army, known as the ELN, could also be involved in the peace talks.
"Today the ELN has expressed, via an international news agency, its interest in participating in conversations to put an end to the violence," the president said in his brief speech.
"I tell that group that, within the same framework, they too can be part of the effort to end the conflict."
A Colombian intelligence source said earlier that as part of the deal to hold talks, Mr Santos had agreed that Farc rebels would not be extradited to any other country to stand trial.
Details are still being worked out, the source said, but the negotiations could take place in Cuba or Norway. US president Barack Obama is aware of the process and is in agreement, the source said.
Mr Santos, who is at the mid-point of his four-year term in office, has said he would consider peace talks with the Farc only if he was certain the drug-funded group would negotiate in good faith.
The last peace effort ended in shambles.
In 1988 former president Andres Pasternak ceded the Farc a safe haven the size of Switzerland to promote talks. The rebels took advantage of the breathing space to train fighters, build more than 25 airstrips to fly drug shipments, and set up prison camps to hold its hostages.