UNITED NATIONS -- President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday championed Colombia’s upcoming peace talks with the nation’s largest armed guerilla group, in remarks to the 67th United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.
Stressing the talks’ importance to Colombia’s younger generation, Santos pledged to return to the General Assembly next year with a substantial progress report, if not an announcement of a peace agreement, in the government’s 50-year conflict with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas..
“My government has taken the decision to move forward prudently, seriously, firmly and without repeating the mistakes of the past,” Santos said. “It is an opportunity that we cannot squander [and] a peace that is good for Colombia.”
Santos’ remarks come as government and guerrilla negotiators are scheduled to begin talks in Norway Oct. 8.
The move is a risky one for Santos whose prospects for reelection in 2014 may pivot on the outcome of the negotiations. Many in Colombia still have bitter memories from the last round of talks, from 1998 to 2002, and the ensuing ceasefire that many blame for allowing the FARC to regroup and emerge as a more lethal force. This time around, Santos has pledged to keep up the military offensive even as the talks progress.
Santos addressed U.N. delegates in Spanish, on the second day of general debate in the General Assembly hall. He and other heads of state condemned the U.N. Security Council’s stalemate in addressing conflict in Syria and offered condolences to the United States after the deadly attack on its consulate in Libya.
The Colombian president also implored delegates to join a global war on drugs, while mentioning his satisfaction with recent commitments by the U.S. government.
The bulk of Colombian-produced cocaine is consumed in the U.S., which is also Colombia’s largest donor of counter-narcotics aid, according to a report on conflict released Tuesday by the International Crisis Group.
“The debate on drugs [causes] so much rancor in the world and so much harm to my country,” Santos said. “This dialogue must be frank and, there can be no doubt, it must be global.”
Miami Herald Correspondent Jim Wyss contributed to this report from Bogota.