2012-06-19

Colombia Opens Door to Talks with Guerillas

After three years of peace talks between then Colombian President Andrés Pastrana and the FARC ended unsuccessfully, the country’s Military launched a major offensive to reclaim former guerrilla territory in San Vicente del Caguán, in 2012. (Photo: AFP/Luis Acosta)

After three years of peace talks between then Colombian President Andrés Pastrana and the FARC ended unsuccessfully, the country’s Military launched a major offensive to reclaim former guerrilla territory in San Vicente del Caguán, in 2012. (Photo: AFP/Luis Acosta)

AFP

The Colombian senate’s approval June 14 of looser terms in peace talks sends a strong message to leftist guerillas who have been battling the government for half a century, experts said.

The constitutional reform proposed by President Juan Manuel Santos, which must still pass the House of Representatives and Constitutional Court, allows for the possibility of amnesty for demobilized guerillas.

It also sets out provisions to provide restitution to victims of the decades-long conflict and opens the door for former guerillas to gain political office so long as they did not perpetuate crimes against humanity.

“It is essentially a message to the guerillas — they’re saying here is a way to make peace,” Fernando Giraldo, a political science professor at the Javeriana University.

Colombian law currently imposes hefty prison terms on guerilla leaders accused of terrorism and bars them for life from political office. Amnesty is only offered for non-violent political crimes.

“It’s a law for peace,” said Ariel Avila of Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a think-tank promoting peaceful resolutions to the Colombian conflict.

“It opens a door to dialogue and offers a legal grounding to support it.”

The approval does not signal that talks are imminent, cautioned Giraldo.

“Society needs a pathway to escape this interminable armed conflict, but peace is not around the corner,” he told AFP.

In public speeches this week Santos urged the military to attack guerillas with force and insisted that if a dialogue is opened “it will be on our conditions and under our controls.”

Colombia has been riled in a bloody internal conflict that has killed, injured and displaced hundreds of thousands of people over the past 50 years.

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