Colombia and FARC agree to further talks

First peace talks in a decade ended with little progress, with the sides agreeing to meet again next month in Cuba.

    Colombia's first peace talks in a decade were brief, symbolic and largely perfunctory. Held at a secret venue in Norway, they lasted seven hours and were followed by word that substantive talks will begin on November 15 in the Cuban capital of Havana.

    The next round will tackle "comprehensive agrarian development", though little else appears to have been agreed upon, as the opening talks concluded on Thursday.

    The government's lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, sought to set a businesslike, cordial tone in brief remarks at a joint news conference at a lakeside hotel north of Oslo.

    He said the government sought "mutual dignified treatment" in the talks and did not expect the sides to agree on all issues.

    The Norway talks focused chiefly on logistics, and De la Calle said his delegation would return to Colombia on Friday after just two days in the Scandinavian country.

    'Olive branch'

    His counterpart, Ivan Marquez, said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had come to Oslo "with an olive branch."

    Then he began criticising Colombia's "corrupt oligarchy," its alleged masters in Washington, "state-sponsored violence," the government's "deceptive and backward" land policies, and the "vampires" of transnational oil and mining that FARC says are ravaging the nation.

    "We want to denounce the crime of capitalism and neo-liberalism," Marquez said during a 35-minute discourse that denounced some companies and individuals by name, including a cousin of president Juan Manuel Santos and a relative of one of the government negotiators.

    "There is a great chasm between the two parties that is going to be very difficult to overcome," said political scientist Vicente Torrijos at Bogota's Universidad del Rosario.

    'Not a hostage'

    Colombia's business community is also hostile to the FARC. Its TV and radio stations cut away to commercials early in the FARC's separate news conference on Thursday.

    Land ownership issues are at the heart of Colombia's conflict, which is fuelled by cocaine trafficking and aggravated by far-right militias that have colluded with a military widely questioned for human right abuses. Colombia's most fertile land has been largely concentrated in the hands of cattle ranchers and drug traffickers.

    Colombia's president has said he expects the talks to last months, not years, as did the failed 1999-2002 talks that were held in a Switzerland-sized safe haven. Santos ruled out a safe haven this time and rejected FARC's request for a cease-fire.

    "The government has said it is not a hostage to this process," De la Calle noted. Santos has said he will break off negotiations unless there is measurable progress.

    A key member of its five-man negotiating team, former police director Oscar Naranjo, did not attend.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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