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Colombia peace negotiators take a holiday break
by Staff Writers
Havana (AFP) Dec 21, 2012

The Colombian government and the country's FARC rebels took a three-week break from peace talks on Friday, saying in a joint statement that negotiations will resume in January.

"We will continue our discussion and reconvene in Havana on January 14, 2013," the two sides said in a joint communique, adding that the talks so far have unfolded in "a climate of respect and a spirit of cooperation."

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia formally started talks with Colombian officials on October 18 in Norway, and the negotiations moved to Havana on November 19. Both sides have cited progress.

The talks are the fourth attempt to end a conflict that has lasted almost half a century, left 600,000 dead, 15,000 missing and four million displaced in what is Latin America's longest-running insurgency.

The government's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said that the talks would continue to focus on the difficult issue of agricultural reform. It was unequal distribution of land that led rebels to take up arms a half-century ago.

Now that the two sides have been able to feel each other out, "we hope to be able to make progress with greater speed and in an expedited fashion" when the talks resume, De La Calle said.

The goal, he said, is a bilateral agreement "that will allow the FARC to cease being an armed group operating outside the law and let them become a legal political organization."

"We cannot say that extraordinary advances have been made, but we have had some very important talks," rebel leader Ricardo Tellez told reporters.

"We are going to work without stopping, in a balanced and patient way," he said.

Tellez expressed some consternation that government has refused rebels' call for a ceasefire during the negotiations.

Bogota cites its experience in the last talks, for which it created a vast demilitarized zone for the rebels and engaged in three years of negotiations.

The government ultimately concluded the guerrillas used that haven to regroup and rearm, and halted those talks in 2002.

President Juan Manuel Santos has warned that the negotiations have to conclude by November 2013.


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