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    Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during a joint news conference in Bogota, Colombia. last year. | Photo: Reuters/Jaime Saldarriaga

Published 13 January 2018

Antonio Guterres expressed his support for the peace process between the government and militant forces during his first official visit to the country.

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres has arrived in Colombia for a two-day visit in support of the ongoing peace process which ended a 52-year-long struggle between the government and former guerrilla fighters.


UN Secretary General 'Trusts' Colombian Peace Process

Guterres was welcomed by Foreign Affairs Vice-Minister Patti Londoño and the Colombian Ambassador to the UN Maria Emma Mejia. He held a private meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos in the Casa de Ñariño, the government headquarters, after which both gave a press conference.

President Santos said: "I would like to reaffirm our inmense grattitute for your personal support, as well as that of your team, in the peace building process.

"We are aware of the challenges we're facing. The most important one is related with security in rural areas that long suffered in conflict times.

"Building peace is like building a cathedral, brick by brick: it's a slow process and we're just starting. We want to build it on solid and long-lasting foundations."

Guterres chose to speak in Portuñol, a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish, which he cautioned is not a language "because it doesn't have a territory nor a speaking population, but specially because it doesn't have grammar."

Guterres, of Portuguese origin, lived in Colombia for 10 years while working as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and said he's familiar with the country's legal and institutional framework.

"There's no excuse for armed violence at all," he said. "Peace is the only answer to development and poverty problems. Our commitment with the peace process in Colombia is total.

"We're completely at your disposition to support the most important experience in the world that proves that, fortunately, not all the challenges we face in the world are without answer. Here's a strong answer that has our full support."

The Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC), a political party founded by former members of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group in 2017, greeted Guterres' visit to Colombia.

In a video posted on his personal Twitter account, FARC Party leader and presidential candidate Rodrigo Londoño said he considers the occasion "another opportunity to thank the international community for its determined accompaniment in the peace process."

Londoño celebrated the peace process, but also pointed out that mistakes have been made and said he hopes this visit will help Guterres "see the peace process' reality," insisting the FARC has respected all the agreements to end the conflict and build a just nation.

Guterres' visit was announced just after the Colombian government suspended talks in Ecuador with the National Liberation Army (ELN), blaming them for three attacks on oil pipelines as the agreed ceasefire expired on January 9.


Nations Urge Colombian Gov't and ELN to Resume Peace Talks

The ELN lead negotiator, Israel Ramirez, said the incidents "happened in the midst of a complex situation of conflict," but added that "the course of conversations to reach a political solution to the conflict should not be altered."

Lodoño, meanwhile, has called for the talks to be resumed, urging the government to fullfil its "moral obligation... to persist in the search of negotiated exits."

The ELN had already blamed the government for the crimes committed against social leaders, mostly victims of the army and paramilitary groups. The Studies Institute for Development and Peace estimates 170 social leaders were killed in 2017.

Guterres' agenda in Colombia includes meetings with civic and military authorites, UN and social organizations, as well as leaders of the Catholic Church and the FARC.

On Sunday he will travel to the Mesetas Municipality, in the Meta deparment, to tour a center where FARC ex-guerrilla fighters prepare for their reintegration into society.


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