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Colombian president confirms contact with FARC rebels

(Xinhua)

16:46, August 28, 2012

BOGOTA, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has confirmed his government has contacted leaders of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as a first step toward peace talks.

In a televised address Monday, Santos said the government and rebel representatives had conducted "exploratory talks" to seek an end to the decades-long conflict between the two sides.

He said his government would learn from the mistakes of so many previous leaders who tried but failed to clinch a lasting ceasefire with the FARC.

He said military operations against the FARC would continue "on every single centimeter of national territory," even during the peace process.

Santos did not give further details but said he would reveal more about the talks in the coming days.

Venezuelan television station Telesur reported earlier that Santos' government had signed an agreement with FARC leaders in Havana to hold peace talks on Oct. 5 in Oslo, Norway.

However, FARC's command has not released an official response to the president's declaration.

FARC's Rodrigo Londono, alias Timochenko, has shown interest in negotiations with the government since he was appointed leader of the country's largest guerrilla group with about 9,000 members.

Moreover, the National Liberation Army, the second largest rebel group in Colombia with more than 2,500 members, has also expressed a wish to join the peace talks, a move praised by Santos in his speech.

"Today, the ELN has expressed, via an international news agency, its interest in participating in conversations to put an end to the violence," the president said in his brief speech.

Later on Monday, Santos met former President Cesar Gaviria, who media outlets predict will be named a government negotiator in the dialogue with the FARC.

Gaviria, a veteran diplomat, also served as secretary general of the Organization of American States from 1994 to 2004.

FARC has battled about a dozen governments since its appearance in 1964. Although it suffered serious defeats in fighting with government troops from 2000 to 2010, it has recently increased hit-and-run attacks, especially on oil and mining facilities.

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