Photo: Juan Manuel Santos
A spokesman for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group told a Bogota daily that upcoming peace talks with the government will not break down if its request for an immediate truce is not granted.
He was referring to the FARC’s demand that a cease fire be implemented at the outset of the negotiations, a proposal the Colombian government says it will not consider.
“It’s not that the FARC is going to stubbornly insist that without a cease fire or truce we won’t go forward. It’s not that, but rather to try to convince (the government) with arguments,” Marco Calarca, whose real name is Luis Alberto Alban, told El Tiempo in an interview published Saturday.
“If there’s a way to stop (the fighting) momentarily, while striving to build the formula to halt it definitively, that would be best,” Calarca said from Havana.
“Sooner or later, there will have to be cease fires and a truce ... The sooner we do that, there’ll be less deaths and less wounded. If it’s done six months later, there will be painful losses, due to the confrontation,” Calarca said.
On Thursday, the FARC’s Mauricio Jaramillo said in a press conference in the Cuban capital that the rebels will propose that a cease fire be immediately adopted at the onset of the talks, which are set to get underway on Oct. 8 in Oslo and later move to Havana.
But Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said later that same day after meeting with Colombia’s military and police brass that “there won’t be any kind of cease fire. We won’t have anything here until we reach a final agreement.”
He also called on the security forces to “intensify their actions” against the rebels.
Separately, Calarca said in another interview Friday with Colombia’s RCN radio that the peace talks with the government will not be derailed over the issue of whether senior guerrilla Simon Trinidad - behind bars in the United States - is allowed to participate as a negotiator.
“For the tranquility of all friends of peace, we don’t think this is a matter that will break this (process) that’s just beginning,” he said.
The FARC spokesman said the guerrilla group’s request for Trinidad’s inclusion in the negotiations will have to be evaluated with Colombian government delegates “once the talks formally begin.”
Colombia extradited Trinidad in 2004 to the United States, where he is serving a 60-year prison sentence in connection with the capture of three U.S. military contractors held captive by the FARC.
Santos said Thursday in regard to the possible presence of Trinidad as a negotiator that both sides must be “realistic.”
“There are things that can be done and other that can’t. That’s important to understand in this process,” the president added.
The accord establishing a framework for the peace process was signed on Aug. 26 in Havana after six months of secret exploratory discussions on the communist-ruled island under the auspices of the Cuban and Norwegian governments.
Former Vice President Humberto de la Calle will head the Colombian government’s negotiating team in the peace talks.
FARC representatives said in a press conference Thursday in Havana that the rebels’ negotiating team will be led by Ivan Marquez, a member of the group’s political leadership, and Jesus Santrich, who is part of the guerrilla military command.
Santos said earlier this week that the forthcoming negotiations will focus on rural development and improved access to land; security guarantees for the political opposition and activists; an end to armed conflict and the full demobilization of the guerrillas; the problem of drug trafficking; and the rights of victims of both the rebels and the security forces.
The new peace process differs from earlier failed attempts, according to the president, in that it will unfold outside Colombia.
The most recent negotiations, during the 1998-2002 government of President Andres Pastrana, took place in a demilitarized area of southern Colombia - dubbed “Farclandia” - and collapsed amid mutual recriminations.
Santos’ decision to talk peace with the FARC is supported by 60 percent of Colombians, according to a Gallup poll released last weekend, while the smaller ELN insurgency has expressed an interest in joining the process.
The loudest criticism of the venture has come from Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, who called the peace process “a slap in the face to democracy.”
The FARC has battled a succession of Colombian governments since 1964. The insurgency swelled to nearly 20,000 fighters in the early 2000s, but now numbers around 8,500 combatants.
Colombia’s armed forces, bolstered by billions of dollars of aid from the United States, have scored dramatic successes against the FARC in recent years, but the rebels remain capable of inflicting significant damage on the military and on vulnerable infrastructure.