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Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos praises peace process ahead of historic visit to Northern Ireland

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 01/11/2016

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez arriving in London yesterday
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez arriving in London yesterday

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has said he is inspired by Northern Ireland's peace process as he works to end more than 50 years of conflict.

He arrived in the UK yesterday, beginning the first state visit by a president of the Republic of Colombia.

On Thursday, Mr Santos and his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez de Santos, will travel to Belfast, marking the first inward state visit to Northern Ireland by any head of state.

Mr Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year, wrote in The Times yesterday that Northern Ireland's achievement of peace inspires his vision for Colombia.

"For two centuries, Colombia and the UK have shared common values and related experiences, but none is more pertinent to the current efforts being undertaken in Colombia, than the Northern Ireland peace process.

"Its success is A constant reminder of what is possible," he said.

He wrote of his efforts to end more than 50 years of conflict in Colombia with the Farc rebel group, including a peace agreement that was rejected by the people of Colombia in October.

He said negotiators are now at work to find an agreement with Farc, after having taken in more than 500 proposals from all sections of Colombian society.

He added that time was the biggest threat to a peace agreement in Colombia.

"That's why on Thursday in Belfast, I want to say to the people of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in general: we have learnt from your past, we admire your present and look forward to continue working with you in the future."

On Thursday, the president is expected to meet with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and will hold talks with the Secretary of State at Stormont House.

The president will then attend a business and civic lunch at Titanic Belfast, hosted by Invest NI and in the afternoon he will visit Girdwood Community Hub in North Belfast.

The president will meet community leaders during his Northern Ireland visit and will discuss the challenges of community reconciliation post-conflict.

The couple visited the UK as guests of government in 2011 and stayed with the Queen in Buckingham Palace.

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