BOGOTA – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told the FARC on Saturday that he is “open” to talks to put an end to the violence, but on condition that the rebel group gives up its “weapons, kidnapping and drug trafficking.”
“As long as they do not free their hostages, while they continue committing terrorist acts, as long as they do not return children recruited by force, while they continue to use mines and contaminate the fields of Colombia, we will continue to combat all those who practice violence without exception,” Santos said in his inaugural address.
That was his response to the message from the maximum leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Guillermo Leon Saenz, alias “Alfonso Cano,” who proposed talks to the new government in order to end the “terrible situation” the country is going through, in a message recorded during the “month of July” and posted last week on the Internet.
“To the illegal armed groups that speak again of dialogue and negotiation, I tell them that my government will be open to any talks that seek to eradicate violence and build a more prosperous, fair and just society,” Santos said.
But he also noted that there are some “unalterable premises” that must be complied with before talks can begin: giving up “weapons, kidnapping, drug trafficking, extortion and intimidation.”
He added that “this is not some capricious request from the government of the moment,” but the “cry of a nation” that “most of all desires peace” and rejects “those who persist in senseless, fratricidal violence.”
The new Colombian president promised not to rest “until the rule of law reigns supreme” in every corner of the land, for which he asked the general staff of the armed forces “to continue getting results and making sound progress” in the fight against illegal armed groups.
“I wish to repeat what I said before, the door to dialogue is not closed,” Santos said, adding that he aspires to “laying the foundation of true reconciliation, of genuine disarmament.”
In his closing words, he said: “It is possible to have a Colombia at peace, a Colombia without rebel warfare, and we’re going to show it can be done.”
Santos also said in his swearing-in address that one of his goals “will be to rebuild relations with Venezuela and Ecuador, to reestablish the confidence while favoring diplomacy and prudence.”
“We want to live in peace with our neighbors, we will respect them so that they will respect us,” Santos said before some 5,000 guests at his inauguration, including the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, and the foreign minister of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro.
Santos was sworn-in Saturday as the 59th president of Colombia after receiving the tricolor sash from the congressional speaker, Armando Benedetti.
Present at the inauguration ceremony were some 20 high-ranking dignitaries, among heads of state and government and including Crown Prince Felipe of Spain.