Representatives of Colombia’s FARC rebel group said here Thursday they will immediately propose a bilateral ceasefire once peace talks get underway with the government.
“We’re going to propose it, we’re going to fight for it” as one of the “first points” in the discussions, the FARC’s Mauricio Jaramillo said in response to a reporter’s question during a press conference in Havana.
The accord establishing a framework for the peace process was signed on Aug. 26 in the Cuban capital after six months of secret exploratory discussions on the communist-ruled island under the auspices of the Cuban and Norwegian governments.
The text of the so-called “General Agreement to End the Conflict” includes a point calling for “a bilateral and definitive cease fire and an end to hostilities,” and the complete demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Havana will be the main venue for the peace negotiations between the FARC and President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration, though the talks will be formally inaugurated on Oct. 8 in Oslo.
The FARC’s 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, Jaramillo said, adding that additional participants would be named later.
He said the FARC will also ask that a senior rebel now jailed in the United States be permitted to take part in the negotiating process.
Simon Trinidad was extradited to the United States in 2004 and sentenced to 60 years in prison in connection with the capture of three U.S. military contractors held captive by the FARC.
Jaramillo seemed to imply that the guerrillas were open to some arrangement short of Trinidad’s actually being present in Havana for the discussions.
Former Vice President Humberto de la Calle will head the government’s negotiating team, unveiled on Wednesday.
The team also will comprise retired Gens. Jorge Enrique Mora and Oscar Naranjo, erstwhile commanders of the army and police, respectively; business leader Luis Carlos Villegas; security advisor Sergio Jaramillo; and former presidential peace commissioner Frank Pearl.
Prior to the press conference, the guerrillas played a video in which their top leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, better known as “Timochenko,” referred to the upcoming peace talks.
Peace negotiations with an attitude of “complete sincerity ennoble whomever participates,” while those who oppose the process bring “dishonor” upon themselves, Timochenko said, adding that he is convinced the Colombian people will accompany the parties “in dismantling the internal conflict.”
But the FARC’s call for Trinidad to take part in the peace talks poses a dilemma for Santos and puts the White House on the spot a day after President Barack Obama said his country will provide full support to the negotiations.
Shortly after the press conference in Havana, Santos said in Bogota that “the process must be realistic” because “there are things that can be done and other that can’t. That’s important to understand in this process.”
The president must approve the guerrillas’ negotiating team so prosecutors can lift their arrest warrants issued for those who will represent the FARC in the peace talks.
The rebels’ call for an immediate ceasefire may also complicate the negotiations.
Santos said Tuesday in a nationally broadcast address that his government would make no “military concessions” to the FARC and not cede any territory during the talks. He also pledged that the security forces would react decisively to any violent action by the guerrillas.
He said 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, initially in Oslo and then in Havana.
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 Sunday, 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.