| BOGOTA, July 20
BOGOTA, July 20 Colombian President Juan Manuel
Santos opened a new session of Congress on Sunday, calling on
lawmakers to back government efforts to strike a peace deal with
Marxist rebels to end 50 years of war.
"This will be - there's no doubt - the Congress of peace,"
said Santos, who will be inaugurated for a second four-year term
on Aug. 7.
"We have a great challenge - an achievable challenge - to
end an armed conflict which has bled us for half a century, and
Santos won re-election last month with support for his bid
to bring an end to five decades of war with the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that has killed more than
200,000 people and displaced millions.
Santos will face fierce opposition in Congress, not least
from ex-President Alvaro Uribe, a newly minted senator and
leader of the right-wing Democratic Center party. His backers
won 20 percent of the Senate seats and just under 10 percent of
the lower house in March elections.
Uribe is a staunch opponent of the peace talks, which he
says will lead to impunity for FARC leaders and are a betrayal
of the war's victims.
Talks have so far produced partial agreements on three
topics - land reform, political participation and drug
trafficking. Negotiators in Havana are now discussing
reparations and justice for victims of the conflict.
The FARC and the smaller rebel group the National Liberation
Army, or ELN, who are in preliminary talks with the government,
released a joint statement urging lawmakers to support peace.
"Reconciliation is knocking at Colombia's door," the rebel
statement said. "It's time to pass from rhetoric and dead words
to a period of transition, when Congress will legislate in favor
of the uniting of Colombian society."
The government will also seek congressional backing for
reforms to taxation, pensions, healthcare and the justice
Members of Congress were sworn in during the ceremony in
Santos's governing coalition holds majorities in the lower
house and Senate.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra)