The long–awaited peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Norway have been delayed another week, with the two sides agreeing to start talks on October 15 and hold a joint press conference on the 17th.
The Colombian government hopes the negotiations – the first such talks in a decade – will lead to the end of Latin America’s longest-running civil conflict. The FARC have battled the Colombian government since 1964.
"It has now been officially confirmed by the government of Colombia and FARC-EP that the press conference in Oslo is scheduled for 17 October 2012," the Norwegian government said.
Speaking last week in New York at the Council of the Americas, Santos said that he was “cautiously optimistic” in the lead up to the talks, even in light of the failures of past talks.
In 1999, failed peace talks during the administration of then-Colombian President Andrés Pastrana led to the country ceding Switzerland-size portion of land as a safe haven for the FARC, which the group used as a base to continue waging war elsewhere, extorting, kidnapping and drug trafficking.
The Colombian government has also denied a FARC-proposed ceasefire before the talks and it seems unlikely that the rebel demand to release one of their members held in the United States will be met. The denial of a ceasefire has meant a continuation of violence between the two combatants, with FARC-planted land mines killing five people last week and a Colombian military strike killing Danilo García, commander of the FARC's 33rd Front and one of the closest friends of the guerrilla group's top leader.
Both the Colombian government and the FARC are still confident that the peace talks will work out.
"These obstacles are nothing compared with all that has accumulated from ... 50 years of violence, which we are trying to solve through dialogue," Marco León Calarca of the FARC, told The Associated Press. "In that sense, looking at things optimistically, we think there is no problem we can't solve."
Representatives from both the Colombian government and the FARC are currently in Havana, where along with Norwegian officials and other diplomats they are preparing for talks.
The announcement of the talks comes one day after President Santos had surgery for his prostate cancer on Wednesday.
“This could happen to anyone. Prostate cancer is much more common than people imagine. I am calm because this cancer was detected very early thanks to my discipline in repeating medical exams year after year,” he said.
The FARC are Colombia’s – and Latin America’s -largest and oldest left-wing guerrilla group. Even with the group’s numbers decreasing from 16,000 to 8,000 in recent years, the FARC have been more active recently especially in the south of the country.
The group is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.