The Colombian government and leftist FARC guerrillas met here Thursday to formally inaugurate a peace process aimed at ending nearly five decades of internal strife.
Both parties agreed to hold another preparatory meeting in Cuba on Nov. 5 before initiating the dialogue 10 days later, Abel Garcia said on behalf of the government of Cuba, which - along with Norway - is acting as a facilitator for the process.
At the beginning of a meeting attended by five Colombian government representatives, five members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and four Norwegian and Cuban mediators, the head of the peace and reconciliation department of Norway's foreign ministry, Tone Allers, praised the effort being made by the parties.
The head of the negotiating team for the Colombian government, former Vice President Humberto de la Calle, on Thursday invited the FARC to make a "mutual effort" to end the conflict.
De la Calle praised the "rigorous" manner in which the guerrillas and the government have kept their commitments during the first part of the process, emphasized that efficacious agreements must be reached and called for respect and "discretion" on the part of all.
The head of the FARC negotiating team, Ivan Marquez, said that the guerrilla group was participating in the peace process "with a collective dream of peace and with an olive branch in our hands."
The FARC's objective is to "seek peace with social justice via dialogue," with the Colombian people in the leading role, Marquez said.
The accord establishing a framework for the peace process was signed on Aug. 26 in Havana after six months of secret exploratory discussions under the auspices of the Cuban and Norwegian governments.
The FARC has battled a succession of Colombian governments since 1964. The Marxist insurgency swelled to nearly 20,000 fighters in the early 2000s, but now numbers around 8,500 combatants.
Colombia's armed forces, bolstered by billions of dollars of aid from the United States, have scored dramatic successes against the FARC in recent years, but the rebels remain capable of inflicting significant damage on the military and on vulnerable infrastructure. EFE