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FACTBOX-Colombia's peace agenda: main points and challenges

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 13 Nov 2012 16:23 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Jack Kimball

BOGOTA, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Colombia's government and FARC rebels will sit down in Cuba this month in search of a peace agreement that has eluded Latin America's fourth-largest economy for decades.

Unlike past failed negotiations when there was a broad agenda and other parties participated, this time the government and rebels have a tight five-point schedule and will talk face-to-face with a minimum of mediators.

Here are the agenda points and obstacles they face:

LAND

* After a formal launch in Oslo, substantive discussions are set to begin in Havana in November with rural development the first point on the agenda. The FARC has long maintained the central government ignores peasants' rights and needs, while authorities accuse the rebels of wantonly abusing rural inhabitants by forced conscription and illegal taxation.

* This agenda point will include issues ranging from land and property rights to food and agriculture. Rural services like health, education and housing, plus credits and technical assistance, will also be on the table. Every attempt since the 1960s to tackle land issues has failed. One of Santos' key reforms since taking office - aiming to give stolen land back to displaced peasants - has hit numerous hurdles as powerful regional players stymie the process.

* With foreign investment pouring into Colombia thanks to the government's success in beating back rebels over the last decade, the FARC are saying multinationals should get out. But that will not happen, the government says. If the guerrillas want to change the economic system, Bogota says, then they must enter politics and win elections.

POLITICS

* One possibility is that the FARC morphs into a political party as has happened with insurgencies from central America to central Africa. In a country where leftist political parties have been haunted by the murder of thousands of members of the Union Patriotica Party in the 1980s, the agenda item's focus on guarantees for opposition parties is particularly poignant. That is especially true for the FARC's chief negotiator Ivan Marquez who was at one point a member of Congress for the UP. The massacre of UP members has been held up as proof that right wingers will never allow a leftist party to rise up and win elections.

* After five decades of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations, the FARC's top leaders have dozens of arrest warrants hanging over their heads. Although temporarily suspended for the current round of talks, the accusations may prevent the seven-member secretariat from holding public office. Mid-level commanders and regular fighters, however, might be able to stand in elections. It could be possible that the government designates a certain amount of seats in Congress for demobilized FARC members similar to what has been done in past efforts to politically integrate guerrillas. But a recent poll showed that more than two thirds of Colombians oppose allowing FARC leaders to be candidates.

THE WAR

* Fighting will continue at home while negotiators take place abroad. Colombia says there will be no ceasefire until a final agreement is signed and the government has even vowed to step up military operations. But the guerrillas says the first point they would discuss is a bilateral truce. After a dramatic drop in violence since a U.S.-backed offensive was launched in 2002, bloodshed has picked up over the last four years as security gains appear to have hit a plateau.

* Despite years of experience demobilizing and re-integrating guerrillas and other illegal armed groups, Colombia's track-record has not been great. Many right-wing paramilitaries that gave up arms in the 2000s turned into drug gangs while some FARC members who have taken part in voluntary demobilization have dropped out of sight, turning to crime.

* Some analysts have pointed out that the agenda, which was hashed out over two years of secret talks, speaks about the "abandonment" of weapons but not the handover of guns. At the official start of talks in Oslo on Oct. 18, rebels cited the preamble to the five-point agenda as opening the door to talk about issues that were not specifically included in the document.

DRUGS

* A peace deal will not stop drug production in the world's top cocaine producer. Many of the points in this item such as crop substitution and development programs for rural areas are already being tried with mixed results. The white powder will continue to leave Colombian borders and there are concerns that a possible fragmentation of the FARC post-peace may lead many fighters to continue the lucrative trade.

* Once most famous for the flamboyant drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, Colombia's drug scene has dramatically changed since the 1990s, the last time peace talks were tried. New criminal gangs have sprung up from the breakup of traditional cartels in the 1990s and the demobilization of drug-running paramilitaries in the 2000s. Unlike the attention-grabbing Mexican cartels that have dominated headlines with beheadings and massacres, Colombia's bands have learned from past mistakes and are keeping a lower profile, preferring to co-opt and bribe officials and kill smaller numbers of people.

VICTIMS

* With tens of thousands dead and millions more displaced over the last five decades, how Colombia and the guerrillas deal with victims and finding out the truth about crimes will be key to preventing future conflict, retribution and more misery. The five-point document has the least detail about victims - only mentioning compensation, human rights for victims and truth.

* Santos' administration has already pushed through a law giving reparations to victims, which could cost as much as ${esc.dollar}30 billion over the next decade. The main questions: what form will truth telling take - a commission, trials, or some other platform; will the agreement deal with military abuses during the long war; and can a deal safeguard victims rights while at the same time give incentives for rebels to give up arms? (Reporting by Jack Kimball; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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