FARC admit shared blame for Colombia bloodshed
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The left-wing FARC rebels admitted Tuesday they shared blame for bloodshed in Colombia’s decades-old armed conflict, in what was seen as a breakthrough in ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government.
Colombia’s largest guerrilla group admitted for the first time on Tuesday that it shared blame for the suffering of victims, in a key moment of ongoing negotiations to end Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict.
“Without a doubt there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces,” said rebel negotiator Pablo Catatumbo, reading from a statement in Cuba, where the peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government began in November.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday hailed the decision by the smaller ELN rebel group to free a Canadian national who had been held hostage since January.
“I think this is a good step, in the right direction, to open up a dialogue with the goal of finding peace for this country,” Santos said in a statement.
Around 220,000 people have been killed –81.5% of them civilians– and more than 4 million displaced since the conflict erupted five decades ago. In over 50 years of fighting, Colombia’s armed conflict has seen several rebel groups face off against the army as well as paramilitary forces.
According to Marc Chernick, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, the current peace process is unique compared to previous, failed negotiating attempts because of its emphasis on recognising victims.
In fact, identification of victims and compensation is one of the five points on the agenda.
“Victims’ voices are finally being heard, and some of them are saying the FARC can’t just waltz in without asking for forgiveness,” Chernick recently told FRANCE 24.
While Tuesday’s statement was far from a mea culpa, it appeared to show that the rebels –like the government– were in tune to others’ demands, and willing to make concessions to reach a deal.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently acknowledged the state’s responsibility in the repression and killing of civilians.
Elections loom over talks
So far negotiators in Cuba have reached a partial deal on agrarian reform, and must cover the remaining four points before a vague end-of-the year deadline. Santos pledged last November that the talks would take “months, not years.”
Georgetown’s Chernick doubted the two sides could carve out a full agreement by December, but said the real danger to peace efforts were looming parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.
“The risk is that there will be an overlap between the negotiations and the campaign. It will be a wildcard and people don’t know what the result will be.”
While a majority of Colombians say they support the peace process, the talks have vocal detractors, namely former president Alvaro Uribe.
“Uribe will have a platform to target the peace process. He has a new party and is fielding candidates for the National Congress. He may even be at the head of the list,” Chernick noted. “He is already mobilizing support against the peace process and that would only be amplified during the campaign. That is a real scenario.”