WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Friday named a special envoy to assist peace talks between rebels and the government of Colombia, a key U.S. ally struggling to end a more than half-century-old internal conflict.
The decision to have Bernard Aronson, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs, play a role in the talks in Havana, Cuba came in response to a request by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters.
Kerry said Aronson's extensive experience in the region, including helping negotiate peace in El Salvador, made him the right person for the job.
"Peace can only be made by Colombians themselves," said Aronson. "We have no blueprint made in Washington to offer. We will not take a place at the negotiating table, but we can push, prod, cajole, and clarify and help wherever we can."
Aronson called on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and "hopefully" the National Liberation Army "to demonstrate their courage by renouncing violence forever so Colombians can heal the wounds of war and live in peace with justice under the law."
Colombian ambassador Luis Carlos Villegas released a statement thanking Washington for naming Aronson.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki emphasized that Aronson will be an envoy to the talks not a negotiator. "His activities will be uniquely and without exception at the request and coordinated with the Colombian government."
Colombia's peace talks began in Norway in October 2012, and subsequently moved to Havana.
The two sides have reached partial agreements on three of the six items on the peace agenda: agrarian reform, drug trafficking, and political participation for former rebels. The two sides are currently negotiating redress for the victims of the brutal internal conflict.
Luis Alonso Lugo is on Twitter at: www.twitter.com./luisalonsolugo