* Santos say 97 pct chance he will be totally cured
* Peace talks with rebels set to start in mid-October
By Jack Kimball and Luis Jaime Acosta
BOGOTA, Oct 1 Colombian President Juan Manuel
Santos said on Monday he would undergo surgery for a
non-aggressive prostate cancer in a health scare that seemed
unlikely to derail his government's imminent talks with Marxist
rebels to end decades of war.
Santos, 61, said the tumor was discovered as part of a
routine checkup and will be removed on Wednesday.
"It's a small tumor located on the prostate gland and it's a
good prognosis. It's not aggressive," he said at the
presidential palace in Bogota, flanked by his doctor and his
wife. "There's a 97 percent chance of being totally cured."
The Harvard-educated economist, who took office two years
ago, is about to embark on negotiations in coming weeks with the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), whose insurgency
has led to the deaths of tens of thousands in half a century.
A successful end to the peace negotiations would help secure
Santos a place in history and allow him to further build on the
economic and security advances that began under President Alvaro
Uribe a decade ago.
Colombia, a nation of about 46 million, has attracted record
foreign direct investment over the last few years as a
U.S.-backed military offensive against drug traffickers and FARC
rebels improved business confidence.
Santos, who as Uribe's defense minister dealt some of the
harshest blows against the FARC, said he would not be handing
over presidential duties.
The cancer was detected "very much in time" and his doctor
expected the president to be able to make a quick recovery,
Santos said. The surgery will be conducted with a local
anesthetic at a hospital in Bogota.
"I am going to stay in the clinic a few days. I will be
subject to a few physical limitations, but I will continue
exercising my functions as president of the Republic," he said.
LATEST LATIN AMERICAN LEADER AFFLICTED
Santos, who has three children, joins several other Latin
American leaders who have fought cancer in recent years.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who seeks re-election on Sunday,
has had three operations for tumors since mid-2011.
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was
successfully treated for a throat tumor earlier this year and
his successor, President Vilma Rousseff, was treated for
lymphoma cancer in 2009 but has been given a clean bill of
health by her doctors.
Paraguay's former President Fernando Lugo also beat
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2011 after four months of chemotherapy
A flood of messages appeared on Twitter offering support for
Santos, including best wishes from ally-turned-foe Uribe,
opposition lawmakers and government officials.
"My solidarity and support to the President and his family,"
said Vice President Angelino Garzon, who also was hospitalized
recently. "The country, now more than ever, needs him."
The peace talks helped lift Santos' approval ratings at a
time when he was being slammed by critics, like former boss
Uribe, who said security had deteriorated considerably, raising
the possibility he would be unable to seek a second term.
Negotiations with the FARC, which will take place in Norway
and Cuba, have raised Colombians' hopes of an end to the war.
Santos, who appeared alongside his soldier son earlier on
Monday at a military event, seemed in good spirits and said that
he had sought medical advice last week during a meeting of the
United Nations in New York.
He left for Peru after the cancer announcement to attend a
meeting of Latin American and Arab heads of state and will
return to Bogota on Tuesday, a presidential spokesman said.