Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos proposed Monday making a fresh start in the northeastern region of Catatumbo, where farm workers have just ended a nearly two-month-long general strike protesting governmental neglect.

"We have to sit down with the mayors, with the governor, with the farm workers, with the businessmen and make a fresh start," Santos said in an interview on Caracol Radio.

For the president, Catatumbo is the example of a region that historically has been afflicted by "the presence of illegal groups, drug trafficking and everything that has harmed this country."

So after farm workers ended their strike, the president proposed creating a "peace laboratory" in this region bordering Venezuela to "build a model of coexistence and peace" that will serve as an example for all Colombia.

The proposal includes the total eradication of coca, the raw material of cocaine, but offering the alternative of "productive projects" to farmers who subsist by growing illegal crops.

"So they can earn a living we need an infrastructure to get their products to market, the roads they need," he said.

"We can turn the extremely difficult situation the region has been going through for so many years into a pole of development," the president said, referring to the fact that Catatumbo "has very fertile soil, mining and petroleum."

The farm workers of Catatumbo went on strike June 10 to demand the suspension of coca eradication and respect for human rights in the region.

After 53 days of protests and blockades, in which four demonstrators were gunned down, last Saturday the farm workers ended the strike to resume talks with the government. EFE