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Colombia, FARC rebels begin formal peace talks in Norway

The Colombian government's head of negotiators Humberto de la Calle (L), boards a plane to Oslo, Norway on October 16, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Negotiations opened Thursday on ending a war that has gone on since the 1960s
  • Both sides agree that peace means more than ending armed conflict
  • But lots of distance remains between the government and rebels

On the first day of formal peace talks between Colombia and FARC rebels, one point was already agreed upon: Peace means more than simply putting down their weapons.

The two sides formally opened their negotiations in Norway on Thursday, aimed at bringing an end to the longest-running insurgency in Latin America. The leftist FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has been at war with the government since the 1960s.

Who are Colombia's FARC rebels?

Previous attempts at peace have ended in failure, but this time, both sides say, they have a more ambitious agenda.

"The end of the armed conflict is the precursor to peace. To achieve it, we have to go deep into the transformation of society," said Humberto de la Calle, a representative for the Colombian government.

The end of hostilities -- the kidnappings and bombings by the FARC and military operations by the government -- will not usher in peace without a true transformation within the country, he said.

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Ivan Marquez, a FARC representative, agreed.

"We are not the guerrillas that some media make us out to be," he said. "We come to the table with proposals and projects to achieve a definitive peace, a peace that implies a demilitarization of the state and radical socioeconomic reforms that are the foundation of democracy, justice and freedom."

Both parties are committed to the "construction of a stable and lasting peace," they said in a joint statement.

Colombia's president says FARC must be allowed to participate in politics

But lots of distance remains between the sides.

For one, the Colombian government reiterated that it will continue its military operations against the FARC and will not consider a cease-fire until after a final agreement is reached.

Also, while the government has said that the FARC could continue to advocate for its positions as a political force, it does not want to negotiate all the group's demands during the peace talks.

"This is about creating an agenda for the end of the conflict that allows the FARC to put forth its ideas unaccompanied by weapons, and with guarantees for its transformation to an unarmed political force," de la Calle said.

The talks began in Norway and will continue in Havana, Cuba. In addition to those two host countries, Chile and Venezuela have played a role in bringing the two sides together.

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

The FARC continues to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces, though it has been severely weakened in recent years, thanks in part to a U.S.-backed security campaign.

Read more: Use of child soldiers rising in Colombia

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