HAVANA (Reuters) - Colombia’s lead negotiator gave a muted assessment on Thursday of progress in talks aimed at ending a five-decade-long war with Marxist-led rebels, as negotiators wrapped up their initial round of meetings in the Cuban capital.
Former Colombian Vice President Humberto de la Calle’s words contrasted with earlier, more exuberant rebel pronouncements that things were going well in a possible indication that nothing major has been agreed upon in the still-fledgling talks.
“We have finished the first round of direct conversations. I can say … we have advanced as expected,” de la Calle, wearing a black suit and white shirt, but no tie, told reporters at the Havana convention centre where talks began on November 19 and will resume December 5.
“We will not move conversations at the table to the microphones. More than speeches, we want concrete results,” he said. “When there is relevant information, we will make it public in an opportune manner.”
The bloody conflict at issue, in which tens of thousands of people have died, dates back to 1964 when the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, formed as a communist agrarian movement that later turned to the illicit drug trade, kidnappings and extortion to sustain itself. Millions of people have been displaced by the war.
FARC representatives have spoken daily going into the talks, but so far have held to an agreement not to discuss what is being said at the negotiating table.
On Thursday, Dutch rebel Tanja Nijmeijer read a statement expressing solidarity with the Palestinian cause in the Middle East. She wore all black clothes, with a checked Palestinian scarf around her neck.
The rebels had scheduled a press conference for later on Thursday.
Previous attempts at peace ended in shambles, but a 10-year-long, U.S.-backed military offensive has weakened the FARC to the point that the government believes it may be ready for a negotiated end to the war.
The talks have begun with the complicated issue of rural development, with four equally difficult topics - ending the war, the political and legal future of the rebels, the drug trade and compensation for war victims - to follow.
President Juan Manuel Santos has said he wants an agreement within nine months, but the rebels say the process could take much longer.
Writing by Jeff Franks; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman