OSLO, Norway (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos brought no members of the leftist FARC rebel group to Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony because he didn't want to "create a problem" for the Norwegian government, he said Friday.
"They will be here in heart and spirit," Santos said of the rebel group, with whom he recently reached a peace agreement.
Santos will collect the Nobel Peace Prize on Saturday for his efforts to end a 52-year-old conflict that has left more than 200,000 dead. The prize went to him alone and not the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is still designated as a terrorist group by many countries including the U.S.
"The FARC is not here is because I didn't want to create a problem with the Norwegian government," he said, adding a Spanish lawyer who served as a chief negotiator for the rebels would represent the rebels at the ceremony.
The entire FARC leadership — some 50 rebels in all — is unable to safely travel outside of Colombia because they face international arrest orders by the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges
Santos said legal procedures are underway in Colombia "in order for them to be completely free to go around the world." He also said Colombia will ask other countries to remove the group from terror lists following the peace deal, which was formally ratified by lawmakers last week after an earlier version was rejected in a referendum.
"The EU has already taken some steps in that direction and I hope that the U.S. will take steps in that direction," Santos said.
He denied, however, that the Colombian government has asked the U.S. to release Simon Trinidad, a FARC leader serving prison time in the U.S.
In a letter to the White House on Thursday, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham said they had learned that the Santos government had approached the Obama administration about the issue. Releasing Trinidad, they warned, would jeopardize millions in U.S. funding for implementation of the peace accord.
"We have not asked for Simon Trinidad's liberation," Santos said. "That has not been an official request of the Colombian government to the American government."
The new accord introduced 50 changes to the deal that was narrowly rejected by voters in a referendum in October. Santos said he hopes Colombia's Constitutional Court on Monday will approve a fast-track procedure to implement it.
"An impossible dream just a few years ago is now a reality," he said.
Ritter reported from Stockholm.