The First Step Towards Peace in Colombia?

News from Colombia | on: Thursday, 6 November 2008

A recent public exchange of correspondence between leading figures in Colombian civil society and the FARC guerrilla group has, for the first time in some years, provided hope that peace negotiations to end the 50-year-old Colombian conflict may be possible. Both the guerrillas and the civil society representatives express their desire for further communication, to look for ways to bring the war to an end and to encourage the involvement of the international community in peace efforts.

The new initiative is significant in that it is the first sign in recent years that dialogue may be possible. However, the Colombian Government has yet to comment on the new development and to date President Alvaro Uribe has refused to be involved in any talks with the guerrilla group.

The exchange of correspondence began on September 11th when Liberal Party Senator Piedad Cordoba and over 150 leading Colombian figures, including members of Congress, former diplomats, religious figures, trade unionists, human rights activists, indigenous leaders, academics and former FARC hostages, wrote to FARC leaders asking if they would be willing to engage in correspondence to discuss the possibility of a peace process.

The letter said that civil society had a key role to play in promoting peace and that those signing also believed that "a notable current of opinion already exists in favour of alternatives to the armed solution". It went on to support calls for an exchange of prisoners between the guerrillas and the government and to say that leaders of other countries are willing to act in "support of the dialogue process that we are proposing". It is unclear which leaders the letter is referring to though President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela helped broker a prisoner release earlier this year.

A reply from the FARC's leadership on October 16th, welcomed the initiative and suggested that the discussions should centre on "a political solution to the conflict, the humanitarian exchange [prisoner exchange], and peace." In a later communiqué the guerrillas added that they believed that finding a solution to the conflict "remains the fundamental concern of the vast majority of Colombians".

The last talks between the FARC and civil society occurred in January and February this year when negotiations led by Senator Cordoba and President Chavez led to the release of five politicians that the guerrillas were holding hostage.

The guerrillas still hold two politicians as well as over 25 members of the security forces that they have taken prisoner. They are demanding a prisoner exchange as a first step towards a wider peace process – something that the Colombian Government have so far rejected despite support for the idea from the families of those being held.

See also:

Feb 2008 FARC Guerrillas Announce Further Hostage Releases

Jan 2008 Freed Hostage Claims Colombian Government Tried to Sabotage Release

Jan 2008 Hostages' Release, Seen from the Other Side

Jan 2008 FARC Release Two Hostages



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