Amid tempered hopes, Colombia, FARC set for talks in Cuba
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA (Reuters) - Amid hopes tempered by a history of failure, Colombia and the Marxist FARC rebels begin talks in Cuba on Monday in the latest bid to end their bloody, half-century-old conflict.
Tens of thousands of lives have been lost and millions of people displaced in the bitter war the two sides failed to resolve in three past peace attempts, the last ending in 2002.
The negotiations were scheduled to begin on Thursday but were postponed due to "technical" details.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who secretly initiated the peace process almost two years ago, has said there is reason for "moderate optimism" but officials also have warned against unrealistic expectations.
In a recent Gallup poll, 72 percent of Colombians supported the negotiations but only 39 percent thought they would succeed.
The Colombian government and the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, will negotiate five points including rural development, an end to the war, the drug trade, the rebels' future and compensation of victims of the conflict.
Despite past failures, analysts say hopes this time are based on signs of greater flexibility on both sides and a shared need to stop the fighting.
The FARC has been battered by a 10-year-long U.S.-backed military offensive that has halved its ranks to an estimated 8,000 rebels and pushed them deeper into the mountains and jungles that have given refuge since the group formed in 1964. Continued...