* Rebels say talks moving like "bullet train"
* Public acrimony not affecting negotiations
* Talks will resume Feb. 18
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA, Feb 10 Colombia and the Marxist FARC
rebels said on Sunday their talks aimed at ending half a century
of conflict are picking up the pace and making progress toward
an agreement on land reform, a key point in the peace process.
Speaking as they ended their latest round of negotiations in
the Cuban capital, negotiators signaled that the public acrimony
they had displayed in recent weeks did not reflect what was
happening behind closed doors.
Rodrigo Granda, a senior leader of the FARC, or
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said discussions were on
the right track and moving "at the speed of a bullet train."
Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle was more
measured, but said "the pace has improved and we have to
maintain and preserve it."
They are trying to end a war that dates to the FARC's
formation in 1964 as a communist agrarian reform movement
fighting Colombia's long history of social inequality and the
concentration of land in the hands of a few.
Tens of thousands of people have died and millions more
have been displaced in the war, Latin America's longest running
insurgency and a vestige of the Cold War.
The two sides traded barbs before the current round of
talks, when the FARC conducted attacks and kidnapped three
people after the government refused to join them in a ceasefire.
The rebels also have issued statements calling for a halt
to, among other things, foreign investment in oil exploration
and mining in Colombia.
De la Calle said FARC's positions during negotiations are
"One thing is what the FARC says publicly as part of its
platform ... and another thing is what it says at the table," he
The talks are built on a five-point agenda addressing the
issues that provoked and prolonged the war, starting with land
reform and rural development.
The FARC has proposed giving a broad swathe of Colombia to
the poor, but the government has said land will not be taken
from private landowners.
In a statement, the delegations said they discussed an
"exhaustive analysis" of land reform and had drawn closer on
"the proposal to give progressive access to land to the greatest
number of Colombians possible that do not have it."
They said they had briefed representatives of Chile and
Venezuela, who are aiding the peace process, on their progress.
Remaining issues include FARC's future political
participation, ending the conflict, compensation for victims of
the war and drug trafficking, which has helped fund the group
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said he wants
the peace process wrapped up by November.
He initiated the talks on the bet that the FARC has been
sufficiently weakened by a decade-long U.S.-backed offensive and
is ready for peace.
The rebels are estimated to have 9,000 troops, who have been
pushed into increasingly remote areas by the offensive.
De la Calle said the next round of talks would start on Feb.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Doina Chiacu)