Colombian government negotiators and FARC rebels will start peace talks in Norway in a bid to end the longest-running insurgency in Latin America.
The first direct talks with the leftist guerrillas in more than a decade looked set to go ahead in Oslo on Thursday, one day later than planned, with the Colombian government voicing cautious optimism about a possible deal.
“We confirm that the October 17 meeting for peace in Colombia will go ahead on October 18 in the afternoon, Oslo time,” read a statement signed by the FARC and the Colombian government on Tuesday.
“We do not want to create false expectations, but we do believe there are structural elements that allow us to harbour hope that we will see good news for Colombia,” chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle told AFP before leaving Bogota.
If the preliminary talks in Oslo go smoothly, further negotiations addressing the precise details of a deal are scheduled later in Havana.
Together with Cuba, Norway is playing the role of facilitator in the peace process that seeks to put an end to a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives in the past 50 years.
Talks had originally been scheduled to begin on Wednesday near the Norwegian capital, but Ivan Marquez, the top negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was held up by bad weather en route to Cuba.
Norwegian foreign ministry spokeswoman Veslemoey Lothe Salvesen told AFP that a press conference featuring both delegations at a hotel near Oslo, originally scheduled for Wednesday, would now be held 24 hours later.
FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez, also known as Timochenko, said on Monday that the movement’s representatives had experienced unexpected delays, citing problems in getting arrest warrants for some rebels suspended.
According to the Colombian press, tensions were also raised over a last-minute request by the FARC to include a Dutch national, Tanja Nijmeijer, among its representatives.
Previous failed talks
The peace talks are the fourth official attempt in 30 years at ending the conflict.
The last dialogue collapsed a decade ago when the Colombian government determined that the guerrillas were regrouping in a demilitarised zone it had created to help reach a deal.
This time around, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has ruled out a ceasefire during the talks.
On Sunday, rebels blew up two electricity masts in northern Colombia, a region where there have been several clashes with the army.
Founded in 1964 and Latin America’s largest rebel group with 9,200 armed fighters, the FARC may finally be ready for a truce after a long string of setbacks.
In recent years, it has suffered the capture and killing of some of its top leaders, and the depletion of its ranks to half what they were at their peak in the 1990s.
Since his election in 2010, Santos has been preparing the groundwork for an agreement, introducing a law on land restitution that has been a deal-breaker for the rebels.
In addition to land issues, any peace deal is also expected to tackle armed groups’ involvement in drug trafficking, a thorny subject in Colombia, which is the world’s biggest cocaine producer.
The government has said it will give the process just a few months to yield results.