No cease-fire at Colombia peace talks

2012-09-06 20:58
Juan Manuel Santos (AP)

Juan Manuel Santos (AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bogota - The image is seared in Colombian minds: The country's president sits on a big stage looking glum, hands folded in his lap, next to an empty chair.

It is January 1999. At the inauguration of peace talks, the founding leader of the Western Hemisphere's biggest leftist rebel army has snubbed President Andres Pastrana.

Cursed, the peace talks drag on for three years in a safe haven the size of Switzerland that the government has ceded to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, which wages war elsewhere, kidnaps and extorts unabated and expands its cocaine business.

Ten years later, in a wealthier, far more stable Colombia, a different president is giving peace yet another chance.

'Definitive peace'

"Any responsible leader knows he can't let pass up a possibility like this to end the conflict," President Juan Manuel Santos told the nation on Tuesday in announcing an accord with the peasant-based Farc to seek "a definitive peace".

An hour later, by pre-arrangement, the Farc's commander, Timoleon Jimenez, announced the rebels' participation in a videotape played in Havana.

The talks will be the fourth attempt in three decades to end the hemisphere's longest-running conflict.

The preliminary accord, signed on August 27 after six months of secret exploratory talks in Cuba, calls for talks to begin in Norway in the first half of October, then return to Havana.

Several days of talks will be held in Oslo, an exact date has not been set, before they move to Cuba a few weeks later, a senior Colombian official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition he not be further identified due to the subject's sensitivity.

Negotiating team

The government negotiating team, announced by Santos on Wednesday, will include the two men who led the preliminary talks, national security adviser Sergio Jaramillio and former peace commissioner Frank Pearl.

Also named to it are former interior minister Humberto de la Calle, widely respected former national police director Oscar Naranjo, former armed forces chief Jorge Enrique Mora and Luis Carlos Villegas, president of Colombia's main business group.

After taking office in mid-2010, the 61-year-old Santos said the FARC, badly weakened by a decade-long US-fortified military build-up, would need to seriously curtail hostilities if its peace overtures were to be taken seriously.

As a condition for launching the talks, the Farc agreed to halt ransom kidnappings, the senior official said. It also agreed for the first time, the official said, to disarm at the signing of a peace agreement. Demobilised rebels would then take part in everything from destroying coca crops to launching political movements.

The talks will now proceed, outside Colombia, without any halt in combat and without any safe havens.

Complex

The Andean nation's internal conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, has not persisted a half-century by accident. It is maddeningly complex in a country with one of the world's widest gaps between rich and poor and the second largest internally displaced population after Sudan.

Potential spoilers to a peace deal abound, particularly to the agrarian reform and rural development that Santos, a social progressive, says would be part of a successful deal.

Resistance can be expected from wealthy ranchers and plantation owners allied with Alvaro Uribe, who as president in 2002 to 2010 waged war without quarter against the Farc while making peace with far-right militias that did most of the dirty war killing.

And then there is drug trafficking.

Drugs


It fuels all of Colombia's illegal armed groups: the rightist militias, their successor gangs and the FARC itself.

Five of the six members of the Farc's ruling Secretariat, including Jimenez, are deemed major drug traffickers by the US State Department, which has $5m bounties out for each of them.

It is not clear how Washington would deal with them if the conflict ends. Colombia's congress passed a law in June that sets a framework for amnesties and pardons for rebel leaders.

Police and soldiers in Colombia mixed up in the illegal drug trade aren't exempt from prosecution. Would FARC commanders get a waiver?

Pastrana, who served as Colombia's ambassador to Washington after his presidency, called drug trafficking "a very important element" of peace talks and said "it would be good to invite the United States as well into this process".

Independence

Washington is a close ally of Colombia, but Santos has already exhibited considerably more independence than Uribe.

The White House issued a statement on Tuesday praising the preliminary accord as a "milestone" and asking the FARC to "take this opportunity to end its decades of terrorism and narcotics trafficking".

The accord was brokered by Norway and Cuba and they will "facilitate" the talks while Venezuela and Chile "accompany" them.

It remains unclear whether that means they will sit in on negotiations. The talks will be direct, with no international mediation, the senior Colombian official said.

Fighters lost

Jimenez, better known as "Timochenko", acknowledged that a decade of intense military pressure, including the killings in raids of two top FARC leaders since Santos took office, had helped bring the rebels to the negotiating table.

It has lost roughly half its fighters in the past decade as Washington funnelled an average of $700m a year in mostly military aid to the government.

That has not prevented the Farc from stepping up hit-and-run attacks in recent months, targeting oil and coal installations in raids that have cost Santos politically.

But the insurgency has also suffered from increasingly more effective air attacks, thanks in part to sophisticated US infrared and targeting systems fitted on its warplanes.

Adamant


Santos stressed on Tuesday that he will not cede an inch of territory: "Military operations will continue with the same or stepped-up intensity."

He also said the talks would not be open-ended.

"They will be measured in months, not in years," he said. "If there are not advances, we simply won't continue."

Some analysts say results will need to come quickly or Colombians will lose patience, especially if the violence does not abate.

"Santos is taking a huge political risk," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. "It is still far from clear whether the Farc is serious this time."

Shifter believes the issue will consume the second half of Santos' four-year term.

Santos has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election.

- AP
Read more on:    colombia  |  narcotics
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Beauty
 

This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!

Find out who and what South Africans were most curious about in 2014!

 
 

I love summer.24

This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem
The world's least visited destination is breathtaking!
LOL treadmill fail!
Google’s top searches of 2014

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be emotionally defensive or reserved today. You need to step up today as there may be extra responsibilities to deal with....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.