Colombia’s FARC rebel leadership confirmed they are ready to reach a peace deal as soon as possible, while the government reiterated that 2016 is the year to end war as the final phase of end-of-conflict negotiations between the two sides of the over 50 year armed internal conflict restarted in Havana, Cuba, on Wednesday after a controversy briefly stalled the talks.
“Our commitment and political decision is to continue moving forward with our all our determination toward the signing of a final agreement,” chief FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez said to media.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia has said its movement is “fully prepared” to agree to a “timetable and roadmap” to reach a final peace deal between the two sides “without delay.”
The peace negotiations had set a self-imposed deadline of March 23 to sign a peace accord in Havana to bring an end to the over three-year peace process and five-decade conflict, but various setbacks have made meeting the proposed date increasingly unlikely.
The government, on the other hand, has not changed its tune that 2016 is the year of peace heralded by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the New Year, but it seems that officials may no longer see March as the month for peace in the South American country.
“This is an important year for the history of Colombia,” Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said during an address to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday, adding that the peace process in Havana has reached its final stages. “We expect that 2016 will mark the end of the over 50 year armed conflict, the largest in the western hemisphere.”
Both Holguin and Marquez acknowledged that the peace process has achieved major developments and historic agreements have been met. However, challenges still remain as the negotiators work through the final steps.
“Experience at the (negotiating) table has showed that when acts are done without taking the counterpart into consideration, the negotiation falls into the swamp and impedes progress,” said Marquez, adding that achieving a bilateral cease-fire, ending paramilitary activity, and ensuring the FARC’s transformation into a legal political movement remain key obstacles to be overcome.
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On the government side, efforts to remove landmines are seen as crucial priority in ensuring stable and lasting peace, Holguin said. Last May, both sides of the conflict agreed to launch a preliminary demining initiative after the country saw more than 11,000 people injured or killed over the last 15 years.
The peace process has got back underway with full force after a government uproar over a visit by Marquez and other FARC leaders to the town of El Conejo earlier this month where photos showed armed rebels were in the vicinity of the leaders
FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez visits El Conejo, Feb. 18, 2016.
The government accused the negotiators of breaking the rules of camp visits and banned them from making such trips. The FARC accused the country’s right wing of creating an “unwarranted controversy” over the visit.
Cuba and Norway, the two guarantor countries supporting the peace process, had to step in to smooth over the situation after the controversy launched an impasse at the negotiating table. Both sides also agreed to a protocol for FARC tours to communicate peace process progress.
While it seems unlikely the two sides of the conflict will meet the self-imposed deadline of having a final peace agreement March 23, FARC and government negotiators agree that peace is near.
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