Colombian peace talks acelerated inspite latest crisis

Colombia's government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group have overcome their latest crisis and will look to accelerate their negotiations with a view to signing a peace deal "as soon as possible."

In a statement read Wednesday in the Cuban capital, the so-called guarantors of the peace process, Cuba and Norway, said the two sides had reached an agreement to "set aside their recent differences and normalize the talks."

They did not specify, however, when Bogota and the FARC would return to the negotiating table for the first time since the outbreak of the latest crisis, which erupted over photos and video footage showing rebel negotiators being escorted by armed guerrillas while participating last week in a public event in the northern Colombian village of Conejo.

The statement also did not indicate when or how the FARC's chief negotiator in the talks, Ivan Marquez, and another guerrilla negotiator, Joaquin Gomez, would return to Cuba after being accused by President Juan Manuel Santos' administration of violating rules pertaining to their authorized trips to Colombia.

The government said the FARC had agreed that the purpose of those visits would be restricted to briefing rank-and-file guerrillas about the progress of the talks and that rebel negotiators violated their pledge not to enter urban areas, establish contact with the civilian population or take part in political demonstrations.

The two sides will continue to comply with the commitments they have acquired regarding "de-escalation and trust-building measures," the statement said.

The guarantors said they had mediated intense talks in recent days between the two sides aimed at overcoming the impasse.

Shortly after the announcement, the Colombian government's chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said in a separate statement that his team would return to Havana a day after Marquez and Gomez arrive.

The government and the FARC, who began negotiating more than three years ago in Havana, have reached agreement on several key issues, including land reform, political participation, the elimination of illicit drug production, and redress for victims of the strife, and last September they set a March 23 deadline for signing a peace deal.

It remains unclear, however, whether that deadline is feasible considering the stiff challenges that still lie ahead, including the achievement of a bilateral and definitive cease-fire, the handover of weapons by the FARC and the concentration of rebel forces in specific demobilization zones.


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