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Juan Manuel Santos: Finding peace with FARC
The Colombian president explains why he believes 50 years of armed conflict may soon come to an end.
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2012 08:37

More than 50 years of armed conflict with chilling atrocities and human rights abuses committed by all sides, more than four million forced to flee their homes while the number of dead and missing is impossible to count - no country in the Western Hemisphere has had to endure so much violence for so long.

Colombia's political conflict goes back as far as 1948 to a period aptly called La Violencia when violence broke out between Liberals and Conservatives. That was followed by the emergence of left-wing guerrilla groups, the oldest and largest of which is the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia or the FARC.

By the late 1990s, the FARC's numbers had swollen to more than 20,000 and what was once a ragtag army had become a well-equipped force financed through drug trafficking and kidnapping.

But on September 5, Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president, made a startling announcement: "The national government and the FARC have reached an agreement that lays out a roadmap to reach an agreement to finally put an end to the violence between children of the same nation."

After more than 50 years of war, Santos tells Al Jazeera that the end may be closer than anyone thinks.

"If there is goodwill on both parts we will reach an agreement much sooner than people expect," he says. "The fundamental issues that are on the table that we agreed to discuss and agree on in order to finalise definitively the conflict are not that difficult."

But three previous attempts to make peace have failed dismally. The last attempt, 10 years ago, saw Andres Pastrana, the then Colombian president, hold negotiations with FARC founder Manuel Marulanda in exchange for giving the guerillas a haven the size of Switzerland.

They used it to train, recruit and go on a kidnapping spree - raising serious doubts about the sincerity of the rebels. And, when the talks broke down, the FARC took new and more prominent hostages, including the presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

And the suspicions are mutual.

Since the 1950s, when Guadalupe Salcedo was murdered by police after reaching a peace accord with the government, to the 1994 airplane bombing that killed former M19 rebel and presidential candidate Carlos Pizarro, there has been good reason to doubt the goodwill of the Colombian state.

Throughout Colombian history, rebel groups that lay down their weapons have been betrayed and killed, with the state unwilling or unable to protect them. Santos insists that will not happen this time.

"I can tell you ... that this will not happen," says Santos. "I will protect the process with everything that I have in my hands and when I say I will sit down and give you guarantees I will comply."

Rodrigo Londono, better known as Timochenko, the FARC's new leader, says he goes to the negotiating table without rancour or arrogance, but with a strong dose of mistrust.

So, while the road to ending the Western Hemisphere's longest-running armed conflict may be full of landmines, could an end be near?

On this episode of Talk to Jazeera, Juan Manuel Santos sits down with Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman to explain why he believes a final solution to his country's conflict with the FARC is at hand.

Talk to Al Jazeera can be seen on Al Jazeera English each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0430; Sunday: 0830, 1930; and Monday: 1430.

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