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There are signs that one of the world's enduring conflicts could have an end in sight. Rebels in Colombia have been fighting for power for nearly 50 years. After so long, the conflict has simply become a way of life. Now the rebels have decided to negotiate for peace with the government. Most of Columbia's 47 million people support the talks. So does the United States, which has provided the South American nation with billions of dollars in military aid. But NPR's Juan Forero went to the rugged mountains where the insurgency was born and he found people wary of what peace talks can actually produce.
JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Years before Fidel Castro and his bearded guerrillas took power in Cuba, there were rebels like Jose Rodriguez. In the mid-1950s, here in the mountains of southern Colombia, rebels, hired pistoleros and the army were already fighting. It's a time that Rodriguez commemorates in song.
JOSE RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish)
FORERO: Let me tell you the story, he sings, of a people who've been crushed, of towns burned down and bombing runs. The lyrics don't just reflect what he saw a half century ago but what's been going on in the decades since - a brutal internal conflict, one of the world's oldest.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
FORERO: In remote regions like this one, rebels attack troops, troops chase them down. Civilians are caught in the middle - and much of it is often captured in videos the rebels shoot.
(Foreign language spoken)
This is too hard to fix, says the old rebel, Jose Rodriguez. The war has just gone on too long. Everyone seems to agree on that - from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the supreme commander of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. That's Rodrigo Londono, or Timochenko.
RODRIGO LONDONO: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: It's time to march for peace, Timochenko recently said in a video the FARC released, to construct a new country and end the violence. The FARC - not known for its humor - also put out a funny rap video.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
FORERO: The ditty is about heading to Cuba for talks and the video ends with rebels walking off, suitcase in hand. The talks that are set to begin soon in Havana will be the fourth between the government and the rebels since the 1980s. The others ended badly. But both sides say they believe this one may be different.
The agreed-upon agenda - discussing agrarian reform and incorporating rebels into society - is not unrealistic. And the FARC is weaker, which analysts say makes the group more open to negotiating. Army Colonel Jairo Leguizamon says the military has the upper hand - and he says you can see the stepped-up military presence even here.
COLONEL JAIRO LEGUIZAMON: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: We're in places we never would have been six or seven years ago, Leguizamon says, where it would've been unimaginable to be. Still, guerrillas and army troops continue to battle here. And that has some locals worried whether the rebels, so accustomed to waging war, are really ready to make peace.
RIDER ROJAS: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: One of them is radio DJ Rider Rojas.
ROJAS: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: The conflict's intensity has gone down, he says, but the rebels still extort from shopkeepers and recruit children. Those who are most wary live in the canyons heading up to Marquetalia, where a rag-tag group of peasants fighting for land became the FARC in 1964.
Mule train is the best way to get there, along narrow paths that curve this way and that.
At the top of one mountain, the wind howls past Nohemi Caicedo's house. Her home has stunning views - a perfect lookout post. The army certainly thought so years back, using the spot for a base. There are still deep protective trenches dug by soldiers. Local lore also holds that it was on this mountain where the FARC first formed.
NOHEMI CAICEDO: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: There was combat here, Caicedo says, and many people died. Caicedo knows a lot about death. Her 18-year-old son had joined the FARC and was killed in combat in January. So she says she'd like to give peace a chance, for the sake of her other children.
Juan Forero, NPR News.
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