Colombian Government To Negotiate With Rebels

President Santos told his countrymen this week that Colombia has an opportunity like no other to end a war that began in 1964. That's when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, took up arms to fight for agrarian reform. Colombia has tried and failed to negotiate with the Marxist rebel group three other times since the 1980s.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Much of the cocaine here in the U.S. comes from one place: Colombia. Coming up, we'll hear about the life and violent death of a Colombian woman known as the cocaine queen. But let's go now to Bogota, where NPR's Juan Forero reports on peace talks that President Juan Manuel Santos says could end 50 years of drug-fueled conflict.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: President Santos told his countrymen this week that Colombia has an opportunity like no other to end a war that began in 1964. That's when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, took up arms to fight for agrarian reform. Colombia has tried and failed to negotiate with the Marxist rebel group three other times since the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: Santos says it'll be hard, but that it's a path his government needs to explore. On Wednesday, the government named a negotiating team that included a former vice president, a former general and an industrialist. The FARC's team is headed by Mauricio Jaramillo, a medical doctor who's also chief of the group's powerful eastern unit. The negotiations begin in October in Norway before moving to Cuba. The idea is to find a way to incorporate former rebels back into society and to bring development to rural areas. The two sides will also work to end cocaine trafficking in rebel-held zones, which is a vital interest to the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SANTOS: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: President Santos says there are two reasons why the time is right for peace, because of government programs to improve the lives of the poor and because the world has changed. And Santos says Colombia must change, too. It can't go on with one of the world's oldest conflicts. Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota.

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