Colombian talks start peacefully

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Historic peace talks between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group FARC finally got officially underway in Norway on Thursday and the tone seemed almost surprisingly good among all parts involved. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was relieved to describe what he called “mutual willingness for peace.”

Historic peace talks officially got underway in Norway on Thursday. At far right is Norwegian Special Envoy Dag Nylander is at the far right. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

The talks had been delayed twice and a sense of uncertainty prevailed earlier in the week. On Thursday, though, the former vice president of Colombia, Humberto de la Calle, and the feared FARC commander, Luciano Marin Arango, sat on the same podium at a press conference in the small community of Hurdal, north of Oslo, and expressed common desires to reach the goal of peace.

They had representatives from Norway and Cuba between them, after both countries facilitated the talks with support from Chile and Venezuela. The meeting with reporters was meant to mark the start of official negotiations in Norway, which Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported would continue back in Cuba.

‘Gratifying’
The two sides have been talking again since February, secretly meeting in Havana. This week, the eight negotiators and diplomats from four countries moved to a new setting in neutral Norway, a radical change of scenery meant to further thaw hostilities despite the chilly, rainy weather outside.

The gloom of November in Norway didn’t seem to affect proceedings. Eide used words like gledelig (happy, gratifying) and “very glad” that both sides had already agreed on a “common platform” for further negotiations. Eide fully expected them to launch negotiations on “real and substantial questions,” after Norwegian Special Envoy Dag Nylander has spent months helping to lay the groundwork.

Norway has been involved in the Colombian peace efforts for years, but three earlier attempts at a truce failed. Even now, there is no ceasefire in the civil war that’s gone on for decades.

Eide had meetings with both delegations on Wednesday, at which he encouraged them to “allow themselves to be led by the vision that a 50-year-old conflict can in fact be solved, for the benefit of all Colombians.”

Negotiators still face a “long and demanding process,” Eide noted, “but today’s communique is a good start.”

Modest surroundings
The talks are taking place at a modest, somewhat out-of-the-way hotel along the shore of a large lake at Hurdal, Hurdalsjøen, not far from Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen where they all landed this week. De la Calle recognized FARC for keeping its promises in relation to the talks, and noted the Colombian government had, too. He stressed that there’s now confidence between the two sides and they can build on earlier peace talks, even though they failed to succeed.

Arango has received immunity from international arrest orders and said FARC dreams “of a country at peace with social justice, a country with social qualities … like the land in north where we are now.” He said civil war had destroyed both sides’ homeland, and that they must “find a new way to create a better life for everyone. He called on “everyone,” including “politicians, students, academics, union leaders, youth organizations, the church, the military, artists, the press and Colombians in exile” to “support us and the diplomatic efforts to create peace.”

De la Calle seemed confident they would succeed. “That we’ve come this far, is good news for Colombia,” he said.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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