Sat, Sep 08, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Colombia president snubs rebel group’s truce deal ahead of Norway peace talks

DECADES-OLD DISPUTE:The government of right-wing leader Juan Manuel Santos has refused to talk with the FARC guerrillas, saying military offensives are to continue

AP, TOLEMAIDA, Colombia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday night rejected a proposal by the country’s main leftist rebel movement to observe a ceasefire during peace talks that are to begin next month in Norway.

Leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said hours earlier during a news conference in Cuba that their first item on the negotiations’ agenda would be to propose a truce in the half-century of fighting that has killed tens of thousands.

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.

Santos, who spoke after meeting with more than 100 generals and colonels, did not respond to questions. There was no immediate comment from FARC officials.

Earlier in the day, rebel officials raised the idea of a ceasefire during a meeting with journalists in Havana to discuss FARC’s plans for the peace talks.

“We will propose a ceasefire the moment we sit down at the table,” said Mauricio Jaramillo, a spokesman and top FARC leader. “We are going to discuss it.”

Before Santos rejected that idea, he said during an interview with Colombia’s W Radio on Thursday that a lasting peace could be achieved if both sides truly have the will.

FARC said the talks are scheduled to begin on Oct. 8 in Oslo and it named three of its negotiators for the negotiations, including a high-ranking guerrilla now 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 US citizens in Colombia.

Asked whether the FARC is seeking Palmera’s release or the rebels envision him participating by videoconference, Andres Paris, another spokesman, responded that Colombia’s president would be learning of their request from Thursday’s announcement and they would await a response from his government.

A decade ago, talks fell through after Colombia had ceded a Switzerland-sized swath of terrain as a safe haven for the FARC, which used it as a base to continue waging war elsewhere, extorting, kidnapping and expanding its cocaine trafficking activities.

In Havana, the FARC representatives played a roughly edited video in which rebel chief Timoleon Jimenez, known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, denied that the group had been weakened by defections and the deaths of several top leaders in recent years.

“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.”

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