Little celebration as talks between government and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia begin in Oslo.
There will be no ceasefire between Colombia’s government and FARC rebels until the sides reach a comprehensive peace agreement, according to government negotiators, as peace talks get under way in Norway.
Negotiators from the two sides appeared together in public for the first time in the small town of Hurdal, near Oslo, before launching the talks aimed at ending a 50-year conflict that the government says has claimed 600,000 lives.
“There will be no halting of military operations, we will continue to carry out our military obligation,” Humberto de la Calle, chief negotiator for the Colombian government, said.
“We will not discuss private property or economic reform.”
He also rejected calls by FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, for broader social discussions.
Speaking for FARC on the same podium, Ivan Marques said “we come with an olive branch in our hands”, and insisted that his group was seeking a “stable and lasting” peace.
Thursday’s talks lasted seven hours and were followed by word that substantive negotiations would begin on November 15 in the Cuban capital, Havana, and would first tackle “comprehensive agrarian development”.
Together with Cuba, Norway is playing the role of facilitator in the peace process. Past discussions have ended in shambles, even strengthening the guerrillas’ ability to attack civilian and military targets.
The five-point discussions are likely to be thorny as they focus on the drug trade, victim rights, land ownership in rural areas, FARC participation in politics and how to end the war.
Despite the talks, Colombian troops have continued their offensive against the rebels and guerrillas have stepped up attacks in recent days against energy and mining installations.
“There is no ceasefire while these tentative first steps are being taken but there’s a sense that people might be ready for compromise, although the language has occasionally been very assertive,” Al Jazeera’s Tim Friend, reporting from Oslo, said.
“Millions have been displaced, tens of thousands have been killed and the war has been financed by cocaine.
Colombia is the world’s biggest cocaine producer and the war is being financed by the illegal drug trade.
Our correspondent quoted Marques, the FARC negotiator, as saying “there are political, economic and social issues that caused this conflict and need to be addressed if the conflict is to be resolved.
“Marques said ‘We’re not the guerrilla warriors the media portrays us to be’.”
As well as being a personal victory for President Juan Manuel Santos, a successful end to the talks would increase Colombia’s weight in investment portfolios after years of being considered one of the world’s most dangerous places to visit and do business.
Still, peace with the FARC will by no means end violence in Colombia as drug trafficking and criminal gangs – many born out of the demobilisation of right-wing armed groups – may continue to operate across the nation.
Elected in a landslide in 2010 promising to maintain the tough stance against FARC adopted by his predecessor Alvaro Uribe, Santos has been criticised by opponents for a perceived deterioration in security.
Santos’ approval ratings have recovered since the peace talks were announced.
Rumours of talks with the FARC, Latin America’s largest armed group, swirled since Santos assumed office and took early steps to instigate the process with reforms giving land back to displaced peasants and paying reparations to FARC victims.
While most Colombians approve of peace talks, polls show that more than half would oppose any deal allowing FARC leaders to participate in politics or giving them an amnesty for crimes committed in the conflict.
“The government wants to push things along. They will go to Havana to start talking about the substantive issues,” our correspondent said.
“Here in Oslo they wanted to come up with an agenda. Now they have agreed on the outline of the talks. In Havana they will get down to the nitty-gritty and the real, hard negotiations.
“I don’t think these negotiations are going to come to a swift conclusion.”