Colombia leader to Cuba in push for rebel peace deal

Juan-Manuel-SantosColombia’s president and the head of the FARC rebel group were headed to Cuba on Wednesday in a push to end Latin America’s oldest guerrilla war.

“Peace is near,” President Juan Manuel Santos said on Twitter, announcing the surprise trip to Havana, where his government has been in peace talks with the FARC for nearly three years.

A FARC source who asked not to be identified said the rebel group’s leader, Timoleon Jimenez, also was going to Havana to meet with Santos, Cuban President Raul Castro and the negotiating teams.

The meeting was set for 5:00 pm local time (2100 GMT), the rebel source said.

Santos said his trip to Havana was “for a key meeting with negotiators with the objective of accelerating the end of the conflict,” which has been running for a half-century.

Both sides have reported progress in resolving one of the most difficult issues of the peace talks — how to bring to justice guerrillas who lay down their arms.

“Justice is at the heart of the peace negotiations and with an agreement on that issue, the dream of building a country in peace begins to become a reality,” the president’s office said in a statement.

The conflict has simmered since the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) took up arms against the government in 1964, unleashing a guerrilla war that has claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people.

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