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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Uribe prepared to meet FARC

NDTV: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said on Tuesday that he is prepared to meet with the country's largest rebel group in order to complete peace talks - the latest in a series of exchanges that have given hope that talks could soon start.

"I would like to remind Colombians that the government is equally as firm on democratic security as it is on reconciliation. Because democratic security is democratic, it is one road toward peace. If we are working with good will on a possible peace process and not a deceitful meeting, I would have no inconvenience in having it," Uribe told reporters.

Uribe said that he wants the peace commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, to meet with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to discuss a swap of kidnapped hostages for imprisoned guerrillas.

In an October statement, FARC said it looked forward to talks on a final peace agreement to end the five-decade long conflict with the government once the two sides conclude an exchange of some 60 hostages for about 500 imprisoned FARC rebels.

"I hope we can see their family members return to the comfort of their homes. I would like to tell my countrymen the following, our offers for peace are outlined on our democratic security policy," Uribe said.

The rebels' hostages include politicians, military officers, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US defence contractors.

Uribe's office quickly responded with a statement that it would be prepared to convene an assembly to create a new constitution, a key demand of the rebels.

But the two sides continue to disagree on a demilitarisation area where the prisoner swap would take place. FARC is demanding an 800-square-kilometre (310-square-mile) area, but the government insists it will only give provide about 180 square kilometres (110 square miles).

The proposed talks are backed by the governments of France, Spain and Switzerland.

The recent exchange between Uribe and the FARC is surprising given their long-standing hatred of one another.

FARC rebels slaughtered Uribe's father in a botched kidnapping, and the rebels accuse Uribe of helping strengthen the country's far-right paramilitaries, illegal militias created to fight the rebels.

The administration of Uribe's predecessor, Andres Pastrana, spent three years in ultimately fruitless talks with the FARC, before negotiations collapsed in 2002 after the FARC hijacked an airliner and kidnapped a politician.
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