HAVANA — Colombia’s main leftist rebel group proposed a cease-fire Thursday while it holds peace talks with the government beginning in Norway next month. It also named three negotiators, including a high-ranking guerrilla now imprisoned in the United States.
The rebels said first on their agenda will be a possible truce in the half-century of fighting that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
“We will propose a cease-fire the moment we sit down at the table,” said Mauricio Jaramillo, a spokesman and top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. “We are going to discuss it.”
The FARC said the talks will begin Oct. 8 in Oslo.
Jaramillo told reporters in Havana that two of the negotiators will be Ivan Marquez, a participant in past peace talks and a member of the FARC’s six-person ruling secretariat, and Jose Santrich, a second-tier leader.
The rebels also said they want one of their negotiators to be Ricardo Palmera, alias “Simon Trinidad,” a high-ranking FARC member and former peace negotiator who was extradited to the United States in 2005 and subsequently sentenced to 60 years on hostage-taking conspiracy charges.
Asked whether the FARC is seeking Palmera’s release or the rebels envision him participating by videoconference, Andres Paris, another spokesman, responded that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos would be learning of their request from Thursday’s announcement and they would await a response from his government.
“You (the media) will be the bearers of this news, that the FARC has decided as a symbol of the nation and of dignity to have Simon at the negotiating table,” Paris said.
More negotiators will be announced later, Jaramillo said. The Colombian government named its five delegates to the peace talks Wednesday.
There was no immediate reaction from Colombian leaders to the cease-fire proposal.
Earlier Thursday, in comments to Colombia’s W Radio, Santos said a lasting peace can be achieved “soon” if both sides truly have the will, but much hard work lies ahead.
“It is harder to make peace than to wage war. ... Making peace requires more sacrifice, more risk, but at the end the rewards are much higher,” Santos said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman William Ostick said the U.S. was aware of the reports, but did not respond specifically to the request for Trinidad’s participation.
“We welcome President Santos’ announcement and fully support his commitment to working for peace,” Ostick said. “We hope the FARC will take this opportunity to end its decades of terrorism and narcotics trafficking. The United States is not a party to these negotiations. We will not comment on the negotiating positions of the parties.”
Santos and FARC representatives announced earlier this week that they had agreed to hold talks on ending the South American nation’s bloody conflict.
A decade ago, talks fell through after Colombia had ceded a Switzerland-size swath of terrain as a safe haven for the FARC, which used it as a base to continue waging war elsewhere, extorting, kidnapping and expanding its cocaine trafficking activities.
The Colombian government has said security forces would continue operating as normal during any dialogue, though Santos has not explicitly said whether he was for or against the idea of negotiating a cease-fire.
“It is tough to get into hypotheticals ... what is certain is that we are at war,” FARC spokesman Marco Leon Calarca said Thursday.
Earlier the guerrillas played a roughly edited video in which FARC chief Timoleon Jimenez, known by the nom de guerre “Timochenko,” denied that the rebels have been weakened by defections and the deaths of several top leaders in recent years.
“We have never been stronger or more united,” Jimenez said. “They are completely mistaken, those who try to see weakness in our tireless efforts for peace.”
The Norwegian, Venezuelan and Chilean ambassadors to Cuba were also present at the convention hall representing their countries, which along with Cuba are facilitating the peace talks.