Peace closer than ever, say Colombian govt, FARC

This is the most promising of the four peace processes the Colombian government has attempted since the FARC's founding in 1964.

Havana: The Colombian government and FARC rebels said they are closer than ever to ending their half-century-old conflict as peace talks entered their third year.

Negotiators at the Havana talks, which opened on November 19, 2012, have recently announced major advances, particularly on the thorny issue of justice for atrocities that rights groups say both sides have committed in a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people.

And while the government and rebels remain divided on several tough questions, both sides were upbeat as they pressed on with talks yesterday.

"The prospects of reaching a final peace accord are shining on the horizon like never before," said Ivan Marquez, the chief negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"We've advanced like never before in the peace process," echoed the government's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle.

"The process has taken longer than expected, that's true. Now it's time to finish," he said in a statement read out to journalists.

"We're in the home stretch, but we can't deny we're facing the most complex issues now."

The FARC, who have been observing a unilateral ceasefire since July, also said a deal was close on their long-standing demand for a bilateral truce.

"We've managed to assemble more than 90 per cent of the draft for the general accord. We've advanced considerably," said rebel negotiator Carlos Antonio Lozada.

This is the most promising of the four peace processes the Colombian government has attempted since the FARC's founding in 1964.

The talks have so far produced partial deals on three out of six agenda items: land reform, political participation for the rebels and fighting the drug trafficking fueling the conflict in the world's largest cocaine-producing country.

They must still settle the justice issue -- part of a broader agenda item on reparations for victims -- as well as disarmament and the question of how the final accord will be ratified.

Both sides vowed in September to deliver a final deal within six months -- though they have since bickered over that deadline.

Still, a recent Gallup poll found 52 per cent of Colombians are optimistic the talks will ultimately bring peace.

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