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Colombia to begin peace talks with the FARC, but no cease-fire 

September 05, 2012

If Colombia hasn’t managed to negotiate an end to its internecine war, it’s not for a lack of trying.

On three separate occasions in the past 30 years the country’s largest guerrilla group and a succession of governments have sat down to peace talks, and failed. On Tuesday, President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleón Jimenez, the top leader of the FARC guerrilla group, announced that the two sides would try again.

This time though, both men said, it’ll be different.

And while the president himself warned against exaggerated optimism, analysts say that never before have the chances been so high for peace talks to actually end in peace.

In a nationally televised address Mr. Santos revealed the five-point negotiating agenda that the two sides agreed to in preliminary talks. Those "exploratory" talks began at the start of the year in Havana and concluded Aug. 26 with an agreement to begin formal talks. Cuba and Norway are acting as “guarantors,” or facilitators, and Venezuela and Chile will act as witnesses.

"Any responsible leader knows he can't ... pass up a possibility like this to end the conflict," Santos said in a speech from the presidential palace yesterday, where he was flanked by his full cabinet and the military top brass.

The main points of discussion in the peace process – which will begin in Oslo in the first half of October and continue in Havana – include rural development, the recognition of victims, political participation, and the sticky issue of drug trafficking, the FARC’s main source of revenue.

The agenda also includes an issue that has never been included in previous talks: putting an end to the conflict.

For the first time, says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, both sides appear to genuinely want peace. “Before, they weren’t aligned. When one party really wanted peace, the other was just playing along,” Mr. Farnsworth says. “Now all parties finally want peace....”

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