The Colombian government says it has been holding exploratory talks with the country’s biggest rebel group, the FARC, in a bid to end five decades of conflict.
A deal is said to have been struck in Cuba on further talks with the leftist organisation, which has been fighting the government since 1964.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos says he is fulfilling his duty to seek peace.
“First, we are going to learn from the mistakes made in the past so they are not repeated,” he said. The president was referring to the late 1990s, when the FARC was granted a large safe haven to encourage talks, but the rebels used it to train and regroup.
“Secondly,” he went on, “any process must lead to the end of the conflict, not prolong it. Thirdly, the military presence and operations will be maintained across every centimetre of the national territory.”
Santos also said the door was open for the second biggest rebel group to be involved in talks. He said the National Liberation Army, the ELN, had expressed an interest.
So far the group has refused to end its kidnappings, bomb attacks and extortion.
Previous presidents have tried and failed to achieve peace. In Bogota some people are wary.
“I think the best thing is to make clear decisions and tell the guerrillas that what they do is not ok and if they’re going to do something, that they take clear measures. No roundtable negotiations, unless they decide finally to drop the war,” said one young resident.
“I don’t think we are ready yet. I think the FARC have tricked us a lot and this is just one more time that they’re fooling us,” said an older man.
In June Congress passed a constitutional reform setting the legal basis for peace with Colombia’s rebels.
It is thought negotiations with the FARC could take place in Cuba or Norway.