FARC backs talks despite ceasefire rejection

Colombian rebel group says it would still engage in peace talks even though government plans intensified offensive.

    A day after Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos rejected a ceasefire proposal from the country's main rebel group, the group said that it would still engage in peace talks with the government next month in Norway.

    In an exclusive interview on Friday with The Associated Press in Havana, Cuba's capital, Marco Leon Calarca, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said that the discussions could continue without a truce.

    "No, we are not saying that if there is no cease-fire then we will not begin. No, no, no. We are simply calling for sanity by saying that if we are going to talk, let us try and avoid more damage. If we are willing for peace, let's not hurt each other anymore. Let's not hurt our people anymore," said Calarca.

    FARC leaders said during a news conference in Cuba on Thursday that the first item on their negotiators' agenda would be to propose a truce in the decades-long conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.

    Hours later, however, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that would not happen. He said the Colombian military and police had been instructed to intensify offensive actions against the rebels.

    "There's not going to be any ceasefire. We will not give anything until we get the final agreement, and I want to make that very clear," the president told reporters at a military base in central Colombia.

    On Friday, Calarca invited the National Liberation Army, another rebel group, to also consider holding talks with the Colombian government in hopes of achieving peace.

    "It's an invitation for a peace process, it can be the same one or another one. Independent of that it's about building together a stable and lasting peace," said Calarca.

    Incarcerated negotiator

    FARC said that the talks are scheduled to begin on October 8 in Oslo. It also named three of its negotiators, including a high-ranking guerrilla fighter who is currently imprisoned in the US.

    Jaramillo said two of the negotiators will be Ivan Marquez, a participant in past peace talks and a member of the FARC's six-person ruling secretariat, and Jose Santrich, a second-tier leader.

    The rebels said they want the third to be Ricardo Palmera, alias "Simon Trinidad", a high-ranking FARC member and former peace negotiator who was extradited to the US in 2005.

    He is serving a 60-year prison term on hostage-taking conspiracy charges for the kidnapping of three Americans in Colombia.

    More negotiators will be announced later, Jaramillo said, speaking a day after the Colombian government named its five delegates to the talks.

    Santos did not directly address FARC's naming of Trinidad as a negotiator, but he seemed to refer to it when he said the government agreed to talks that are "serious, dignified, realistic and effective".

    "And those last two words - realistic and effective - are very connected," he said. "If we hear proposals that are not realistic, then the process is not going to be effective."

    FARC chief speaks

    FARC also played a video statement from their chief, Timoleon Jimenez, who goes by the nom de guerre "Timochenko".

    "We have never been stronger or more united," Jimenez said. "They are completely mistaken, those who try to see weakness in our tireless efforts for peace."

    The Norwegian, Venezuelan and Chilean ambassadors to Cuba were at the convention hall representing their countries, which along with Cuba are facilitating the peace talks.

    The talks in Norway will be the first attempt in a decade to reach a negotiated end to an armed conflict that began in 1964.

    The rebel army draws its roots from anger among landless peasants in a country with a huge divide between rich and poor.

    The last peace talks, in 2002, fell apart when the government concluded that the guerrillas were regrouping in a vast demilitarised zone it created and where the talks were held.

    The rebels never agreed to a cease-fire, nor did they stop kidnappings for ransom or trafficking in cocaine.

    Since then, the FARC has been stung by a US-backed military buildup called Plan Colombia, and an aggressive counterinsurgency programme which roughly halved the group's numbers.

    Since 2008, three senior FARC leaders have been killed in military raids, including top commander Alfonso Cano.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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