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Colombian President Says 'Exploratory Talks' Held With FARC Rebels

The president of Colombia admitted today that his government and the country's biggest rebel group have engaged in "exploratory talks." The public admission could set the stage for peace talks to end one of the world's longest armed conflicts.

From Bogota, NPR's Juan Forero filed this report for our Newscast unit:

"President Juan Manuel Santos, in a brief televised address, said talks had taken place with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

"The president provided few other details, but RCN television and the Venezuelan state TV both reported that talks had been taking place in Cuba.

"The government is hoping to end a conflict that began in 1964, when a rag-tag group of peasants in southwestern Colombia formed a guerrilla group.

"By 2000, the FARC had grown into a guerrilla army that controlled much of the countryside. The state, though, has over the last decade severely weakened the FARC, killing many of its top leaders and causing thousands of fighters to desert."

The Financial Times reports that in his address Santos made sure to say that while these talks continue, he would not stop his fight against the armed rebels. As the Times explains, his predecesor let up during peace talks and the country descended into violence.

But Colombia, right now, is in a better place. Economically, it is thriving and one analyst the Times spoke to says that could fuel the peace process. The Times reports:

"That might leave the president with more room to improve the social conditions that originally led to the rise of the Farc," explains León Valencia, with the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a peace think-tank run mostly by former rebels. "That is the key issue."

Citing media reports, the Christian Science Monitor reports that the talks would proceed. The two sides have named negotiators and "could begin formal negotiations as early as Oct. 5 in either Cuba or Norway," the monitor reports.

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