U.S. urges Colombia to make quick progress to peace

BOGOTA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Colombian negotiators on Friday to move quickly in peace talks aimed at ending 50 years of war so that the Andean country can move on and achieve “enormous potential”.

Colombia’s government has been in talks with leftist FARC rebels for more than two years in a bid to draw a line under a conflict which has killed more than 200,000 and stirred optimism through agreements already made on about half the talks’ agenda.

“I would urge everybody to use time to advantage and to move. Because as with any negotiation, they cannot be open-ended,” Kerry told reporters after meeting President Juan Manuel Santos on a brief visit to Bogota.

“I encourage movement, and the United States will absolutely do its part,” Kerry said, during a visit that included a stop in Peru on Thursday to attend U.N. climate talks.

There have been relatively few major hurdles or breakdowns since the talks began though they were thrown into doubt last month when Santos suspended them after the FARC kidnapped an army general. They resumed three weeks later after his release.

Kerry said he admired Santos’ “visions of a prosperous and peaceful post-conflict Colombia” and that the president had gambled his leadership to achieve it. He said the U.S. would continue to support Colombia in terms of justice and security.

The government is fighting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on the battlefield even as talks continue in Cuba’s capital Havana. Santos rejects its demand for a bilateral ceasefire and has opened preliminary talks with a smaller rebel group, the ELN or National Liberation Army.

The United States has provided assistance to the Colombian military which helped the army beat back the rebels, who at one point reached the fringes of the capital. The U.S. also carries out a pesticide spraying program on coca fields in Colombia to try to stamp out cocaine production at source.

Santos said Colombia’s relations with the United States were solid and growing stronger. Their relationship would be of critical importance once a peace deal was signed, he said.

“We discussed the importance of accelerating the negotiations. These processes have their own dynamic. We have a real window of opportunity here and as such, the help of the United States is fundamental,” Santos said.

(Additional reporting by Monica Garcia; Writing by Peter Murphy)-thestar

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