Negotiators wrap up first round of Colombian peace

The first round of talks here between the Colombian government and FARC rebels has ended with progress on mechanisms for incorporating civil society into the process.

Havana: The first round of talks here between the Colombian government and FARC rebels has ended with progress on mechanisms for incorporating civil society into the process, which is aimed at bringing an end to a decades-long armed conflict.

Negotiators representing President Juan Manuel Santos` administration and the guerrillas will resume talks Dec 5 after the two sides agreed to organize a citizens` forum on agrarian policy and launch a web page for receiving proposals from the general public.

"We`ve made the progress we expected," former Colombian vice president Humberto de la Calle, head of the team of government negotiators, said Thursday in his first remarks to reporters since the initial phase of the talks focusing on the five-point agenda began on Nov 19.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, also has reached the end of this first round of talks with "great optimism and hope", the guerrilla group`s No.2 and leader of its peace delegation, Ivan Marquez, said hours earlier.

The agreements reached over the past several days in Havana will allow Colombian citizens and civil society groups to present proposals on the first item on the agenda: the problem of landholding and agricultural development.

The agrarian policy forum will be held in Bogota from Dec 17-19, while the web site - - will be up and running from Dec 7 and include a mechanism for "virtual participation".

No other agreements have been reached to this stage of the closed-door talks, the content of which will remain secret by mutual agreement.

A certain "breaking of the ice" seemed to occur during the first 11 days judging by one guerrilla`s remarks about the government negotiators.

"There`s a good team on the other side. It`s a very capable team that we deeply respect," the FARC`s Roberto Granda said.

The accord establishing a framework for the peace process was signed Aug 26 in Havana after six months of secret exploratory discussions on the communist-ruled island under the auspices of the Cuban and Norwegian governments.

Rules for the talks were then discussed during the official launch of the peace process in Oslo in October before the venue was moved back to the Cuban capital.

In addition to rural development and improved access to land, the talks will focus on security guarantees for the exercise of political opposition by the rebels; an end to armed conflict and the full demobilization of the guerrillas; the problem of drug trafficking; and the rights of victims of both the rebels and the security forces.

The most recent peace process with the rebels, during the 1998-2002 government of President Andres Pastrana, took place in a demilitarized area of southern Colombia - dubbed "Farclandia" - and collapsed amid mutual recriminations.

The FARC has battled a succession of Colombian governments since 1964. The insurgency swelled to nearly 20,000 fighters in the early 2000s, but now numbers around 8,500 combatants.

Colombia`s armed forces, bolstered by billions of dollars of aid from the US, have scored dramatic successes against the FARC in recent years, but the rebels remain capable of inflicting significant damage on the military and on vulnerable infrastructure.