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Colombia, rebels open peace talks in Cuba
Updated: 2005-12-17 10:17

Exploratory peace talks between Colombia and its second-largest rebel group began Friday in Cuba with help from the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and facilitators from Spain, Norway and Switzerland.

Given the history of failed attempts at peace in Colombia, the nation's peace commissioner urged all parties involved in the talks to work to regain the confidence of Colombia's people.

"Our main concern at this time is to gain trust," said Luis Carlos Restrepo, speaking at the official opening of negotiations. "Colombia can't take any more setbacks."

Rather than making specific demands, the two sides were meeting to agree on parameters for future peace talks. Restrepo, who was representing the Colombian government, promised to be realistic and responsible in talks with the rebels.

For his part, the representative of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, promised to listen to the Colombian government's position, but said the rebels would not accept any superficial solution and called for large-scale changes in the social, economic and political structure of the country.

Antonio Garcia, the military commander of the ELN, promised, however, that his rebel group would not give up easily on peace.

"If the obstacles are big, we'll have to look for support in society, support in the international community," Garcia told reporters.

The ELN and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have been battling since 1964 to topple Colombia's government and establish a Marxist-style state. The 12,000-strong FARC has shunned peace talks. More than 3,000 Colombians are killed every year in the conflict among Colombia's government troops, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary fighters.

Several informal talks between the Colombian government and the ELN have failed since 1998. Earlier this year, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe accused Garcia of frustrating peace efforts.

"It should make then ashamed if they don't arrive at anything this time," said Garcia Marquez, talking on the sidelines of the event. The author did not address the gathering.
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