Tags: Colombia | conflict | talks

FARC, Government Meet on Reviving Colombia Peace Talks

Tuesday, 02 December 2014 11:24 AM

Negotiators from the Colombian government and leftist guerrilla group FARC met Tuesday on resuming peace talks whose balance of power has likely shifted since the rebels released five army captives.

In their first meeting since President Juan Manuel Santos suspended the talks over the capture of an army general, negotiators from the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia gathered behind closed doors in the Cuban capital Havana to discuss getting negotiations back on track.

Analysts said the FARC's show of strength in capturing General Ruben Alzate, their highest-ranking captive in 50 years of conflict -- coupled with their readiness to compromise by releasing him two weeks later -- likely gave them added bargaining power.

The rebels have called on the government to change the "rules of the game" for the negotiations following Alzate's release, and their leader, Timoleon Jimenez, alias Timochenko, said last week that the talks "can't just resume as they were."

The FARC's top demand is for a bilateral ceasefire, which Santos has repeatedly rejected on grounds that the guerrillas would use it to regroup, drawing out the war.

The guerrillas' second-in-command, Ivan Marquez, repeated the demand as the government's top negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, and his team flew to Havana Monday night.

"The government has broken our trust," he told AFP.

"The process must be protected by an armistice."

Jairo Libreros, an expert on the peace process at the Universidad Externado de Colombia, said the matter of a ceasefire would likely become "a central theme" in Havana.

"The FARC is going to capitalize on the release (of the army captives) to find the space to negotiate a bilateral ceasefire or partial armistice," he predicted.

The Colombian government now finds itself in a delicate position, said a Latin American diplomat who has closely followed the talks.

"A general was taken prisoner, and worse... they weren't able to rescue him. They had to rely on the guerrillas' good faith," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Santos, who has staked his presidency on the peace process, said he did not believe the crisis sparked by General Alzate's capture had "seriously wounded" the negotiations.

He also praised Alzate, who he said would keep his military decorations and had done the "praiseworthy, respectable" thing by stepping down after his release.

Alzate, 55, who headed a task force charged with fighting rebels and drug traffickers in the jungle-covered Choco department, was captured on November 16 along with a corporal and an adviser as they traveled by boat to visit a local energy project.

They were wearing civilian clothes at the time and traveling without a security detail.

In a further embarrassment to the army, the FARC posted a picture on Twitter of the captured general arm-in-arm with guerrilla commander Felix Antonio Munoz, alias Pastor Alape, over a banner that read: "Peace will triumph."

In a press conference Monday, the day after his release, the general fought back tears as he admitted he had "not applied security procedures" and announced he would retire.

He said he had tried to keep a low profile to win the confidence of the Choco population, which "deserves our attention."

The remote western department, the poorest in Colombia, has been hard hit by the five-decade guerrilla war.

The Colombian conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and uprooted 5.3 million since the FARC was founded in the aftermath of a peasant uprising in 1964.


© AFP 2018

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Colombia, conflict, talks
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 11:24 AM
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