BOGOTA (AlertNet) - Ending Colombia’s long-running armed conflict must involve negotiations with rebel groups and not just military action against the insurgents, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombia told El Tiempo newspaper.
“I continue to believe that peace is achieved through dialogue and not surrender,” ICRC chief in Colombia, Christophe Beney, recently told the paper in a rare interview. “All guerrilla members we’ve spoken to say they want peace – that’s not news. The mechanisms needed to get there are the main challenges.”
“I’m convinced that the (Colombian) government as much as the guerrillas want peace,” he added.
Over the years, the ICRC has acted as an intermediary between rebel groups and the Colombian government, and has helped rescue hostages held by the rebels.
Some analysts say the government of Juan Manuel Santos, which came to power last August, is more willing to explore the possibility of preliminary peace negotiations with rebel groups.
For nearly 50 years, leftist guerrilla groups have been fighting successive governments to try to topple the state. In response, the Colombian government has waged a U.S.-backed military offensive against the rebels, which has recently seen the rebels placed on the back foot in some areas of the country.
Whether or not to negotiate with the rebels is a hotly debated issue in Colombia.
Some Colombians are wary of peace negotiations with the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), following failed talks during the government of former president Andres Pastrana. In 1998, Pastrana agreed to pull troops out of a jungle area the size of Switzerland, but FARC used the demilitarised zone to regroup and rearm. He broke off the talks in 2002.