Colombia, FARC rebels set to start peace talks Wednesday

Reuters News

10/16/2012 11:04:32 AM - Reuters News

By Luis Jaime Acosta and Balazs Koranyi

BOGOTA/OSLO (Reuters) - Colombia's government and Marxist rebels will start peace talks as planned on Wednesday in Oslo in a bid to end nearly half a century of conflict after logistical problems delayed the departure of the delegations, Colombia's government said.

President Juan Manuel Santos, facing criticism on security issues, has launched the latest attempt to negotiate a deal with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

Santos' office said the rebels and the government continued to hold meetings despite the delays, but pushed back a scheduled news conference to Thursday from Wednesday. A statement from his office said the peace talks would begin on Wednesday in Oslo.

The two sides agreed in August to begin negotiations in Oslo in the first two weeks of October before moving to Cuba for the substantive part of their talks - the latest attempt after several failed peace negotiations since the 1980s.

Colombia said that the government delegation would leave from Bogota on Tuesday afternoon, which would put them in Oslo on Wednesday morning.

It was not immediately clear whether the FARC delegation had left for Norway. The parties had been expected to arrive in Oslo last weekend for preliminary meetings, but their departures were delayed by heavy rains in Colombia and other problems.

FARC leaders have said there were delays in lifting arrest warrants for some delegates. News reports in Colombia indicated a conflict about the composition of the FARC delegation, particularly the inclusion of Dutch national Tanja Nijmeijer.

A spokesman for Interpol said Colombia had asked for the lifting of so-called "red notices," much like arrest warrants, on several FARC members.

Colombia controls only its own notices, and there is a "red notice" filed by the United States for Nijmeijer, alias Alexandra, which has not been lifted, the spokesman said.

In a statement published on Monday, the FARC insisted it had the right to select delegation members, and said Nijmeijer would take part. But it was not clear if she would travel to Oslo or take part only in the Cuban leg of the talks.

While security has improved since a U.S.-backed offensive against FARC rebels and drug barons began a decade ago, the security forces have been unable to land a decisive blow. That has left Santos vulnerable ahead of elections in 2014.

Negotiations in Oslo are expected to focus on laying the groundwork for the later discussions in Cuba, which would focus mainly on land, drugs and political participation issues.

Norway and Cuba have agreed to act as guarantors at the talks while representatives from Venezuela and Chile will be present for the talks.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi and Anna Valderrama; Additional reporting by Helen Murphy and Jack Kimball in Bogota; Editing by Alison Williams and Will Dunham)