Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that “exploratory discussions have been held” with the FARC guerrilla group about coming to the table for peace talks and that he has invited the smaller ELN rebel group to join the dialogue under the same conditions.
The president made a brief statement in which he warned that in contacts with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, errors of the past will be kept in mind “so they are not repeated” and that during the discussions a “military presence” will be maintained everywhere in the country.
However, Santos said, “any process must lead to the end of the conflict, not to its prolongation.”
“In the next few days the results of our conversations with the FARC will be announced,” the president said, adding that since he took office he has attempted to fulfill “the constitutional obligation to seek peace.”
The “approaches” to that guerrilla group and any “that are made in the future” will have to follow these “guiding principles,” Santos said.
The president took the opportunity to send a message to the second-largest guerrilla group in Colombia, the National Liberation Army, or ELN.
“They too could be a part of this effort to end the conflict,” if they agree to follow these basic precepts, Santos said.
The Telesur television network and Colombia’s RCN Radio said before Santos made his speech that representatives of the government and of the FARC agreed Monday in Cuba to launch a process to put an end to the bloody armed conflict that has cast a pall over Colombia for 50 years.
Silence on the subject reigned in Havana all day, both on the part of the Cuban government and of the embassies of Colombia, Norway and Venezuela, the countries that have backed the accord, according to Telesur.
Colombian media reported that the dialogue roundtable will be established on Oct. 5 in Oslo, but that the talks will continue in Havana accompanied by representatives of the Cuban, Venezuelan and Norwegian governments.
The FARC will be represented in the negotiations by its top military commander, Wilson Valderrama Cano; the rebels’ so-called foreign minister, Rodrigo Granda; and Marcos Calarca and Andres Paris, who took part in previous failed talks with the government, media reports said.
Negotiating on behalf of the Colombian government will be presidential security adviser Sergio Jaramillo, Environment Minister Frank Pearl and journalist Enrique Santos Calderon, the president’s brother, Telesur said.
The FARC has battled a succession of Colombian governments since the mid-1960s. The insurgency swelled to nearly 20,000 fighters in the early 2000s, but now numbers around 8,500 combatants.