Belfast Telegraph

Colombia adopts Northern Ireland peace process model in bid to end civil war

By Victoria O'Hara

The Northern Ireland peace deal is an inspirational framework that could help end the world's longest running civil war, it has been reported.

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos said the strategy adopted by Farc rebels and his administration was based on a number of peace talks, including the model used in Northern Ireland.

Current discussions aimed at ending the conflict are being held in Havana in Cuba and are believed to be at a "tipping point".

Advice from republican and British politicians has been offered during the process.

Last May a delegation of Northern Ireland politicians held talks with negotiators representing the Colombian rebel movement.

Former SDLP politician Conall McDevitt, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy, the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson and NI21's (then UUP) John McCallister met the Colombian Government in November 2012.

They travelled to Cuba to talk to the Farc rebels about conflict resolution.

They discussed what might be learnt from what is known in Colombia as the "Irish model". The local politicians made the point of the need to include wider society in any deal.

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, Mr Santos said: "The preliminary agreement we announced with the Farc was inspired by the framework agreement with the IRA.

"The British people who have helped us have been extremely valuable."

Mr Santos added: "What we have is the oldest conflict in the world, the only conflict in the Americas, and it has been a sui generis conflict. The post-conflict is going to be as difficult as the peace process."

Farc, which campaigns on behalf of landless peasants, has also been involved in Colombia's lucrative drugs trade.

In 2001 the arrest of three Irishmen in Colombia sparked a major controversy in the Northern Ireland political process.

James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley were accused of being members of the IRA and of training Farc fighters.

They denied the charges.

The three men were acquitted but the judge ordered them to remain in the country while the Colombian attorney general appealed their acquittal.

This appeal was successful and the men were each sentenced to 17 years. But the three men avoided imprisonment by fleeing Colombia in 2004, turning up in the Irish Republic a year later.

The last attempt to broker peace in Colombia dates from 1999-2002.

FACTFILE

Farc is Colombia's largest guerrilla group and one of the world's richest rebel movements, allegedly due in large part to drug-trafficking and illegal gold mining. But according to the Colombian military, there are now some 8,000 fighters, down from 16,000 in 2001.

The rebels, who over a decade ago controlled nearly a third of Colombian territory, now mostly operate in remote rural areas or through hit-and-run attacks.

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