Latin America & Caribbean

Colombian Farc rebels call for talks with new president

Alfonso Cano in April 2000
Image caption Alfonso Cano said he was willing to search for common ground with the Colombian government

Colombia's largest left-wing rebel group, the Farc, says it is willing to talk to the new Colombian government of President-elect Juan Manuel Santos.

The Farc leader known as Alfonso Cano said the Marxist rebel group was willing to search for a political solution to the 46-year-old conflict.

A spokesman for Mr Santos said the government was prepared to talk to the rebels, providing they downed arms and released all the hostages they hold.

Mr Santos takes up office on 7 August.

Common ground?

Alfonso Cano, whose real name is Guillermo Leon Saenz, appeared in a videotaped message broadcast by the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera and posted on a Farc website.

In the 36-minute recording, Alfonso Cano said the Marxist group was looking for a political way out of the armed conflict.

"Between all of us, we have to find common ground and, with the input of a majority of Colombians, we have to identify the difficulties, the problems and contradictions, and create perspectives and a way out of the armed conflict," he said.

But he was also critical of the new government of Juan Manuel Santos, elected last month with a convincing majority.

"The success of Juan Manuel Santos this past 20 June guarantees political and strategic continuity for the Colombian oligarchy," he said referring to Mr Santos's long-standing political connections.

The president-elect, who served as defence minister under the current president, Alvaro Uribe, comes from an influential Colombian family.

His great-uncle, Eduardo Santos, was president from 1938 to 1942, and his cousin, Francisco Santos, is the current vice-president.

As defence minister, Mr Santos was instrumental in carrying out the so-called "democratic security policy", aimed at increasing the presence of the security forces throughout the country and driving back the Farc.

In the video, Alfonso Cano does not mention any of the setbacks the Farc have recently suffered.

Last month, the Colombian military rescued four members of the security forces who had been held by the rebel group for almost 12 years.

During the past eight years, Farc numbers have dwindled and many of their top leaders have died or been killed, prompting the Colombian military to say they have reached "the end of the end game".

Alfonso Cano himself only took over the Farc leadership after the death of Manuel Marulanda in 2008.

Mr Cano said the Farc did not enjoy war and asked the Colombian government to stop "forcing us to take up arms".

"We want to create an egalitarian society through political means," he added.

Diplomatic impasse

But he also warned that if the Colombian government continued its military offensive, the Farc would have "no other option but to continue the armed struggle" until their objectives had been met.

During the past eight years, there has been no dialogue with the rebels, as President Alvaro Uribe ruled out talks unless the guerrillas agreed to lay down their arms.

The Farc video comes amid a diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela following charges that some 1,500 Farc guerrillas are using Venezuelan territory as a haven.

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