THE Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced in late September that it was willing to observe a ceasefire when the historic peace talks with the Colombian government, scheduled to be held in October in Oslo, began. The announcement about the resumption of peace talks to end Latin Americas longest-running internal conflict was made by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in early September.
Secret talks were held in Cuba between representatives of the guerilla movement and Colombian officials. Earlier in the year, FARC had announced that it was giving up the policy of kidnapping government officials and politicians. President Santos said that the end of the 50-year-old war was closer at hand than what most people expected.
The government has not announced a ceasefire of its own so far. Colombian officials say that this time they are not going to give the benefit of the doubt to FARC. During the last round of official peace talks held a decade ago, FARC had allegedly used the ceasefire to regroup, recruit and rearm. The government has also historically used negotiations as a ploy to lull the guerillas into complacency. In earlier rounds of negotiations starting from the 1950s, revolutionaries, after being given guarantees that they would be allowed to participate in normal politics, were later singled out and assassinated.
Santos has pledged that history will not repeat itself this time around. Santos, who was Defence Minister under Alviro Uribe, has been credited with dealing severe military blows to the rebels. Many in the top leadership of FARC were eliminated during his tenure. But after becoming President, Santos became his own man. He gave up the hard-line policies of his predecessor, who had refused to negotiate with and was intent on militarily defeating FARC. Uribe is now the most vociferous critic of his successor. Santos has also mended fences with Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. The two countries had almost gone to war a few years ago.
The FARC leader, Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, said that he was going to the negotiating table without rancour or arrogance but with a strong dose of distrust. After holding preliminary negotiations in Norway, the talks will shift to Havana, where substantive issues will be discussed.John Cherian