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Colombian negotiators meet with FARC rebels in Cuba

From Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 10:24 PM EST, Thu November 29, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Talks are expected to resume next week
  • NEW: Land reform forums scheduled
  • "This is just the beginning," a FARC negotiator says
  • The guerrillas announced a cease-fire earlier this month

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Negotiators from Colombia's government and largest insurgent group concluded their first round of talks Thursday and voiced cautious optimism that they will eventually forge a peace deal.

For 11 days, Colombian government representatives met with high-ranking members of the FARC guerrilla army, which for more than 50 years has tried to lead an armed revolution in the Andean nation.

The meetings, which are being held in Cuba, are scheduled to resume next week.

"Building peace is collective work," said lead government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle. "With the participation of everyone and without guns. The discussion shouldn't just be between the government and the FARC, but all of Colombian society."

Negotiators announced forums next month in Colombia where citizens will have the opportunity to offer their own suggestions for how land reform should be carried out as part of the peace plan.

Providing land to Colombia's poor is one of five topics the negotiators are expected to spend months debating, as well as ending FARC's lucrative role in the drug and kidnapping trades.

One difficult hurdle may be whether FARC leaders are required to serve prison sentences as some Colombian officials insist they should. Several FARC leaders face lengthy prison sentences in Colombia and the United States, a major backer of Colombia's military and war against the guerrillas.

High-ranking FARC member Simon Trinidad, the alias for Ricardo Palmera, is already serving a 60-year sentence in the United States. FARC negotiators named Palmera to their peace talks team and carried a life-sized cut-out of Palmera into a news conference on Thursday.

"We hope Simon Trinidad will be at the negotiating table," said FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez. "It would be a gesture of peace for Colombia. It can't all be about waging war."

Despite tough talk on both sides, negotiators said Thursday that the talks had at least started well.

"Very serious, profound things have been discussed," said Rodrigo Granda, a negotiator for the FARC. "This is just the beginning."

At least some of animosity between the negotiators had dissipated, said FARC spokeswoman Tanja Nijmeijer, a Dutch guerrilla who joined the FARC after traveling to Colombia to teach English there.

"During the talks it's very good," Nijmeijer said in English, "There is even space for little jokes, for laughing. It's a really good atmosphere."

Earlier this month, FARC announced it would temporarily halt its battle against government forces as a goodwill gesture.

There have been sporadic attempts at peace since the 1980s. The last fell apart in 2002. Then-President Andres Pastrana ceded an area the size of Switzerland to FARC, but ended negotiations after rebels launched a series of attacks across the country in an apparent bid to strengthen their position.

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