BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The leader of Colombia's main rebel group said peace talks could take longer than the government thinks to succeed, and chided the country's president for setting artificial deadlines, in comments published Wednesday.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said that if negotiations set to get underway in Oslo in October don't advance markedly in six to eight months they will be suspended.
Timoleon Jimenez said his Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has been fighting in the jungles for nearly half a century, have set no such deadline for the talks, which were announced earlier this month in Havana.
The idea of wrapping up the peace talks within months is "an expectation that he (Santos) is generating on his own, and it is against what was agreed in letter and spirit," Jimenez told Semanario Voz, a weekly newspaper put out by Colombia's Communist Party.
He said that in lengthy preliminary talks in Havana between rebels and representatives of the Colombian government "there was an effort not to name drop-dead dates," adding that Santos's stance was an indication of how hard it will be to find peace.
Colombia and the rebel group announced peace talks earlier this month. After the Oslo talks, the negotiations are to continue in Havana. Both Norway and Cuba have signed on as guarantors, with Venezuela and Chile also playing a role.
A decade ago, talks fell through after Colombia had ceded a Switzerland-size swath of terrain as a safe haven for the group known as the FARC, which used it as a base to continue waging war elsewhere, extorting, kidnapping and expanding its cocaine trafficking activities.
This time around, the government has refused to consider a cease-fire.
In the interview, the rebel leader said past efforts to end the 48-year conflict have failed because the government came to the table "to demand surrender, rather than with any real will to deal with the causes that gave rise to ... the confrontation."
Despite all the obstacles, Jimenez said he was optimistic peace could be found.
"We think this process could be successful so long as the great majority of people who are inclined toward a political solution have the opportunity to speak," he said.