The U.N. Special Advisor to Colombia says significant progress is being made in that country's search for a peace settlement. A series of accords signed earlier this month may pave the way for an eventual cease-fire between the Colombian military and the armed groups opposing them.
On January 20, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, signed an accord which may bring about an end to more than 40 years of violence.
Under the terms of the accord, both sides enter into a frenetic phase of negotiations that they intend to conclude by April 7. Topics to be discussed include a permanent end to hostilities, a halt to the widespread kidnappings plaguing the country, and the status of the paramilitaries.
The paramilitaries are the third armed group in the country. But they are not formally recognized by the government and were therefore not invited to take part in the negotiations.
U.N. Acting Special Advisor to Colombia James LeMoyne says the United Nations strongly supports the accords, but notes the deal nearly fell apart. He left little doubt how important he considers these accords and how close they came to failing:
"There are hundreds of Colombians who are alive today because of the accords that were reached," he said. "Those accords were reached four hours before the deadline the President had set for an all-out military offensive to begin and for the process to formally end. There is no question that had that happened there would be hundreds and perhaps more Colombians killed and wounded and displaced today."
The role of the U.N. during this phase of negotiations has been one of support, working alongside others. Ten countries have acted as "facilitators"; the Vatican has been closely involved; and Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela have served as regional leaders.
But despite the work conducted by so many others, Mr. LeMoyne believes the Colombians will ultimately have to find their own solution.
"It remains in many ways a Colombian crisis, and to be fair and accurate, Colombia is an extremely rich country," he said. "It has extraordinarily talented people and I think the support from us and others, [it] probably has the capacity to begin solving itself."
Mr. LeMoyne pointed out that merely reaching agreement on these latest accords took immense political courage by both sides. He credited President Pastrana and FARC leader Commander Marulanda for taking the necessary risks for peace. He urged them to maintain that momentum as they begin with the long-term peace negotiations.