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Colombian government and FARC kick off Oslo peace talks

19 october 2012, 12:00
0
Colombian government representatives and leftist rebels FARC kick off their first peace negotiations in a decade in Norway on Thursday in a bid to end almost 50 years of bloodshed, AFP reports.

The negotiations will be held at an undisclosed location near Oslo, before moving to Havana next week for a second round of talks.

The two sides are scheduled to hold a press conference at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) in a hotel in Hurdal, a small town north of Oslo, to officially kick off the negotiations.

The Colombian government has voiced cautious optimism about a deal.

"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.

Even before getting underway, the Oslo round of talks has been cloaked in secrecy, with few details seeping out from either the delegations or host Norway about the fourth official attempt to resolve Colombia's insurgency.

Together with Cuba, Norway is playing the role of facilitator in the peace process that seeks to end Latin America's oldest conflict, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the past 50 years.

"The two parties are here," a source in Oslo told AFP, providing no other details.

The two side are expected to discuss topics including rural development, the rebels' future role in political life, the definitive end of hostilities, and drug trafficking, which is a source of funding for the rebels.

A ceasefire has been rejected by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos before a final agreement, but the issue is expected to be raised by FARC.

The rebels created last-minute controversy by revealing the name of Dutch national Tanja Nijmeijer among the delegates to attend the peace talks.

Including the rebels' only known European recruit in the delegation is a controversial move, since it is seen by the government side as an attempt by FARC to curry favour in Europe and bolster its international image.

FARC is ranked as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Nijmeijer, 34, is only expected to take part in the Havana round of talks.

She was born into a middle class family in the Netherlands and first travelled to Colombia to study philology and to teach English. In 2002 she joined FARC and has risen to the senior ranks, her political views shaped by the abuses and inequality she witnessed in the country.

Her presence at the peace talks may also be an attempt by FARC to assuage international fears that she has been kept in the Colombian jungle by force.

"It's also a way to send a message to young people, to show a friendlier face," said Ariel Avila, a researcher at a peace foundation called New Rainbow which specialises in the Colombian conflict.

Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe said Wednesday he was "concerned" about the negotiations, saying he didn't understand why a country would "negotiate with terrorists".

Issues such as health care, education, land reform and drug trafficking should not be negotiated with terrorists, he said in an interview with Spanish daily ABC.

"The government is trying to strike a deal with FARC at the price of security, and engages in dialogue while security is deteriorating, without requiring FARC to end its criminal activities."

Founded in 1964 and Latin America's largest rebel group with 9,200 armed fighters, the FARC may 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.

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