Santos, who started peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, back in November, has said Tuesday that he would be willing to meet FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londoño, who is sometimes referred to as Timoleón Jimenez or Timochenko, to hasten an agreement in talks seeking to end 50 years of conflict. He has however warned that the nation will continue at war if Colombians reject what is agreed at the negotiating table.
"I think this is the most important process that Colombia can have and, if it's successful, the most important thing that can happen to Colombia in recent history," Santos told W Radio, a local radio station.
More than three dozen FARC commanders are in Cuba, which is hosting the talks. They are working through a five-point agenda that would let the two sides declare an end to the fighting. The war has pit the FARC and a smaller rebel group, the ELN, against government troops and illegal paramilitary death squads.
The outcome of the talks will however depend on whether Colombians vote to accept the mechanism for dealing with thousands of documented abuses, and ensuring justice for the victims if the matter goes to referendum. According to a study by a state-supported National Center for Historic Memory, the FARC killed nearly 3,300 people since 1981, launched hundreds of attacks on small towns and kidnapped nearly 13,000 people from 1970 to 2010. Some Government forces were also implicated in rights abuses.
“We don’t believe there will be justice, as they say there will be,” said German Bernal, 35, who represents victims of the conflict in Tolima. “I think the government, in its rush to find peace, is doing things we don’t agree with on the issue of justice.”
A prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, has written that the suspended sentences the Colombian framework could permit suggest that the objective is to “shield the accused from responsibility.” She also said the plan might be in violation of Colombia’s own treaty obligations.
“It’s the search for the right balance between peace and justice,” said Sibylla Brodzinsky, co-editor of “Throwing Stones at the Moon,” a recently published book on victims uprooted from their homes by Colombia’s conflict. “What it comes down to is if you demand too much justice, then peace is at risk. If you prioritize peace over the demands of justice, you could be creating the basis for an entirely new conflict.”
Santos, who has pushed hard for a peaceful negotiated settlement for Colombia, told Reuters in a recent interview that the rebel leadership could face jail terms if peace were achieved. He also said FARC negotiators would need to return to Colombia's jungle and face capture or death in battle if talks collapse.
Londoño is not personally taking part in the negotiations so far, and his exact whereabouts are unknown. He is thought to be coordinating the war from hiding in Venezuela.
Any meeting between Santos and Londoño would be the first such sit down since former President Andres Pastrana met rebel founder Manuel Marulanda during peace talks that fell apart in 2002.
Story sources: The Washington Post and Reuters
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