Hopes of ending nearly 50 years of war between Colombia and the Marxist FARC rebels have entered a new phase as the warring sides returned to the negotiating table to continue peace talks.
The meeting on Tuesday in the Cuban capital Havana saw Jesus Santrich, negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), voicing optimism over a petition sent to US President Barack Obama requesting pardon for leader Simon Trinidad to participate in the peace process.
“We don’t want to lose faith, hope that President Barack Obama is going to give a message of peace for Colombia by favouring the request,” Santrich added.
Trinidad is currently being held in the US on charges for kidnapping three US military contractors in 2008. Despite FARC’s continual calls for his release, it remains unclear whether he will be granted permission to take part in the talks.
Santrich noted that FARC negotiators and the government had already agreed to support a broad forum in the Colombian capital Bogota in December to discuss agrarian development, which has been an issue in the class-based conflict.
Upon entering the seventh day of talks at a convention centre in Havana, Santrich said: “Up until now we have had good results: “There has been agreement … We are on the same wavelength.”
The topics agreed upon for discussion hold numerous potential stumbling blocks, land reform among them, along with decisions on which FARC leaders will be allowed to participate in politics and who must go to jail for the group’s crimes and involvement in the drug trade.
Participants say the forum agreement is significant because it means both sides have accepted a basic framework for the negotiations centered upon six themes including land reform, victim compensation, drug trafficking and reinsertion of the rebels into society.
FARC and government delegations announced on Sunday their first accord reached in Havana to create a citizen participation forum on agricultural development due to meet in Bogota December 17 to 19.
The development gave FARC leaders more room to showcase progress in the peace process.
“I think the document produced on the 25th is a good sign that [the negotiations] are on the right track, as I said a few days ago, and with concrete results,” Santrich added.
Agricultural and land reform is a central tenet for the FARC which emerged as a communist agrarian movement intent on overturning Colombia’s long history of social inequality.
Last week, in a sign welcomed by war-weary Colombians and politicians alike, the guerilla group called a two-month unilateral ceasefire, the first truce in more than a decade.
Although the government reiterated its position that it would not halt military operations until a final peace deal is signed.
The two sides are expected to break for Christmas, and restart talks in January armed with a report on the forum’s findings.