Hugo Chavez offers to broker Colombia peace deal

 

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said he is willing to help Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels broker a peace deal and congratulated both sides on taking steps to end the Western Hemisphere's longest-running conflict.

Earlier in the day, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos announced the deal to launch peace talks next month, calling the accord a road map to "a definitive peace".

The pact was reached after six months of direct talks in Cuba, with that country's government and Norway serving as brokers.

"My greeting and a thank you to President Santos for the effort you're making, I can vouch for it because we have been modestly helping out somewhat," Mr Chavez said in a late nationally televised address.

"I also send my greetings to the high ranks of the FARC who have also done their part. They asked us for help and I told the president: Whatever needs to be done for Colombia's peace, I'm willing to do it."

The agreement was signed August 27 and doesn't include a cease-fire or grant a safe haven to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, as they did during the last peace talks.

Those talks ended disastrously in 2002 after three years of negotiations with the hijacking of a commercial airliner that tried the patience of then-President Andres Pastrana.

Operating from a Switzerland-sized safe haven in southern Colombia, the rebels had never ceased to wage war, kidnap and traffic in cocaine.

"I hope they don't fail in their commitment to reach peace. It's enough of war, of six years of war," Mr Chavez said.

"This doesn't have a military solution, I've said it before. It needs a political solution at a discussion table looking for agreement points so the guerilla fighters can lay down their weapons, hopefully with the guarantee and respect of a political life."

The new attempt to end a five-decade conflict will begin in the first half of October in Oslo, Norway, and continue in Havana.

Venezuela and Chile will "accompany" the talks. How their roles will differ from those of Cuba and Norway was not explained.

In a late night interview on state TV, Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela and the whole region would benefit greatly if Colombia reaches a peace deal.

"Peace will permit the deepening of ties. Venezuela has everything to gain from peace," he said.

"We have a 2,200-kilometre border from point to point, and peace will help strengthen integration projects, economic development, the creation of joint economic zones. ... It's the great opportunity for all these projects that sometimes are truncated to reopen for good."

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