HAVANA (Reuters) - Colombia and the Marxist FARC rebels launched their latest round of peace talks on Tuesday in Havana after a month-long break in a process aimed at ending half a century of bloody conflict in the South American nation.
At the end of their last round on March 21, both sides cited progress toward an accord on the key issue of agrarian reform, which lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said needs to be settled soon so they can move on to other issues.
“We arrive in Havana today with the objective of making decisions,” he said in a statement to reporters before entering Havana’s main convention center where the talks are being held.
“We want results,” he said. “This is a process that cannot be prolonged indefinitely.”
The rebels’ top negotiator, Ivan Marquez, said his team was beginning the latest round “with hope beating in our warrior chests of being able to find, at last, a political solution to this long conflict.”
Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced in Latin America’s longest-running rebel insurgency, a Cold War holdover that began in 1964 with the founding of the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, as a communist agrarian reform movement.
The two sides, who began their talks on November 19, are trying to reach agreement on the key issue of rural development and land reform, with the aim of addressing the root of the conflict - Colombia’s long history of social inequality and the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few.
The guerrillas have proposed giving 20 million hectares (49.4 million acres) of land to the poor and establishing a limit on how much property big landowners can have.
The government has insisted no land will be taken from private landowners, but de la Calle said at the end of the last round that there would be no peace without addressing the problems in the countryside, including the lack of land for the rural poor.
Still ahead on the talks’ five-point agenda are the difficult issues of political and legal status of rebels, ending the conflict, compensation for war victims, and the drug trafficking that has helped fund rebel activities for years.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos secretly initiated the talks on the bet that the rebels, believed to number 8,000 to 9,000, have been so damaged by a 10-year-long, U.S.-backed offensive that they are ready for a negotiated peace.
Although the rebels have been pushed back into increasingly remote areas, they have stepped up attacks in recent months on oil and mining developments that are fueling fast-paced economic growth in Colombia.
Since the last round, the FARC has added Pablo Catatumbo, a member of its seven-member leadership group known as the Secretariat, to its negotiating team in what some interpreted as an attempt to shore up support for the talks within the guerrilla ranks.
His presence also may enable the FARC negotiating team to make quicker decisions, according to people involved in the discussions.
Catatumbo, whose real name is Jorge Torres Victoria, heads a strong FARC unit in the south involved in frequent attacks and clashes with the Colombian army. Speaking after Marquez, he told reporters the rebels are “convinced that this process has the resounding support of the majority who long for peace.”
Cuba and Norway helped organize the talks following the failure of three previous efforts at making peace, the last in 2002. Chile and Venezuela are also assisting.
Santos, who may run for president again next year, wants the process wrapped up by November.
Reporting By Jeff Franks and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Tom Brown and Philip Barbara