Farc and Colombian government launch peace talks

Negotiating teams issue joint statement in Norway, and talks will continue next month in Cuba

Colombian leftist rebels and government have formally launched talks to end nearly 50 years of armed conflict, with each side laying out its vision of how the talks will develop and the type of peace that the country can hope for if a deal is reached.

Negotiating teams from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the Colombian government issued a joint statement in the Norwegian town of Hurdal, shown live on television in Colombia, marking the start of the talks which will continue next month in Cuba.

"It's a moment of hope. It is not a disingenuous hope," said Colombia's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle. He invited the Farc to transform itself into an "unarmed political force".

"The peace process will be successful if it's serious, realistic and efficient," he said. Government officials have said they hope to have a peace deal signed in about eight months.

Iván Márquez, the rebels' chief negotiator, said the Farc had gone to Norway "from the Macondo of injustice with a dream of peace", in reference to the town of magic realism in Gabriel Garcia Márquez's seminal novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

He said the government should not be rushed to reach a deal. "Express peace will only lead to frustration," he said.

The official launch of the talks was the first time the two sides have met publicly since peace negotiations broke down in 2002, unleashing an intense military campaign by the government of Álvaro Uribe against the Farc, which funds itself through kidnapping, extortion, drugs and illegal gold mining.

The rebel army of about 9,000 fighters is half the size it once was, but far from being defeated militarily. "We have been hit hard," said Márquez. "But we have also hit hard."

Negotiators on both sides will meet in November in Havana to begin discussion over the first item on the five-point negotiation agenda: rural development. During the event in Norway, the Farc stressed the "shocking inequality" of land ownership in Colombia, a point the government negotiator recognised as an issue that would have to addressed as part of peace-building efforts.

"The end of the conflict is not the immediate achievement of peace," De la Calle said, underlining the government's position that the main aim of the talks with the rebels is to end the fighting.

Márquez was emphatic that the negotiating table was "not a space to resolve the situation of a few guerrillas … it is a space to resolve the problems of the whole of society."

The Farc negotiators reiterated their insistence that the rebel leader Simon Trinidad, who is serving a 60-year sentence in a US prison after being convicted of kidnapping three Americans, be allowed to participate as a negotiator. Márquez appealed to the US government to make "a great contribution" to Colombia by allowing Trinidad to be involved.

It is highly unlikely the US would release Trinidad, but some observers have suggested he could participate via video conference. The US state department's top official for the western hemisphere said in an interview with Colombian television that the US "wants to support the process any way we can", adding that the Americans were "ready to discuss anything if the Colombian government comes to us with a request".

Farc negotiators used the meeting to rail against Colombia's neo-liberal economic model and foreign investment in the country. De la Calle said the Farc were welcome to expound on their political platform but those were not issues to be undertaken by negotiators. He said the Farc should not miss this chance to become a legitimate political force in Colombia. "There is an opportunity, but other opportunities have come and gone," he said.


Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogota

The GuardianTramp

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