Colombian Government and FARC Rebels Launch Talks in Norway

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Decades of conflict and now a historic peace process that aims to stop the violence. That sentence could have described Northern Ireland a few years ago but the peace process that was officially launched today was Colombia's. Government officials from the South American nation and representatives of Colombia's FARC rebels met for hours in Oslo, Norway. Afterwards, both sides held a press conference to announce the next round of talks. Reporter John Otis watched the pressers from Colombia's capital, Bogota. John, I got to say I'm kind of surprised the FARC still has enough juice to even push for peace talks.

John Otis: They certainly do have enough juice, Marco. The FARC still has 8,000 fighters in the jungles and mountains of Colombia, and that's a lot of people and arms. It's something the government has not been able to control totally. The government is a lot stronger; the arm forces are a lot stronger today than they were 10 years ago but they haven't been able to completely eliminate the FARCs. So, for the government, they really would like to reach a peace accord with these guerrillas.

Werman: So, what did the two sides discuss today in Oslo?

Otis: Today was more of a ceremony than anything else. They gave a press conference saying we're going to start negotiations in Havana, Cuba later on this month. They also wanted to point out that they are not going to be speaking to the press all that much because they are worried about constant press leaks and press conferences and this sort of thing could really sort of hurt the peace process.

Werman: Now, apparently there's a pretty strict framework for these negotiations — five main points that the Colombian government and the FARC will be discussing. What are they?

Otis: The FARC's insertion into legal politics; the end of the conflict; land reform; the rights of victims who have been hurt by the war and also coming to some kind of an agreement to end the illegal drug trade which finances the FARC's war machine.

Werman: So, what does each side want and are they likely to get it?

Otis: The government wants the FARC to put down their arms and join the legal political process. That's something that the government has a much greater chance to achieve this time around than in past peace processes Marco, and that's because the Colombian military has had a big offensive over the past decade and they've reduced the FARC numbers by about half. So, there's a much better possibility that the FARC might be willing to lay down their arms this time because now the FARC realizes that they're losing the war. And, you know, the FARC is getting older too. A lot of these guys who were at the press conference today, they're in their fifties. They've got gray hair. They've been out fighting for decades and decades. They're a lot weaker than they were. That's why they seem more willing to cut a deal this time around than compared to past peace processes.

Werman: Presumably, with any peace treaty, the Colombian government is going to insist on any hostages though remaining with the FARC getting unconditionally released. What is gonna happen with the hostages?

Otis: The FARC claims that they have no more hostages and the government has agreed to sort of overlook this issue, for the moment, for the greater good of trying to reach a peace accord. But, of course, advocates for the hostages claim that the FARC is still holding scores and scores of hostages out there in the jungle and they're demanding that the FARC respond for what they've done.

Werman: Does the FARC know something that the rest of us don't? Maybe those hostages are no longer alive?

Otis: That's a very good possibility, Marco.

Werman: John Otis speaking with us from Bogota. Thank you so much John.

Otis: Thanks a lot Marco.