Belfast Telegraph

Your peace process has inspired me, says President of Colombia

By PA Reporters

The President of Colombia has hailed Northern Ireland as the inspiration driving him to secure peace in his own country.

Juan Manuel Santos said he told fellow Colombians to "look to Belfast" when trying to show them the dividends a peaceful future can deliver.

Mr Santos asked to visit the city as part of his historic state trip to the UK - the first by a Colombian President.

Addressing a reception at Titanic Belfast, the President told how he wanted to travel to Northern Ireland to "thank and congratulate" the people.

"I have been following what you have done over the last decades, and the peace process has been an inspiration to us, to me," he added.

"I have followed the perseverance and the tenacity with which you solved this very long and terrible conflict here in Northern Ireland, and it has been truly an example that I've been trying to follow."

Mr Santos won the Nobel peace prize for his efforts to broker a peace deal with left-wing Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels.

Colombia has been blighted by a bitter and bloody internal conflict for decades, as Northern Ireland was before the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998 paved the way for a more peaceful future.

Although September's peace deal was narrowly rejected by Colombia's citizens in a referendum, the President has extended a ceasefire with the country's largest rebel movement to allow more time to try and save the proposed accord.

Mr Santos said the efforts to achieve reconciliation once the violence stopped in Northern Ireland had also impressed him.

"That is even more difficult, but you have been doing a great job," he added.

"I know it is ongoing, still going on, but, for us, it's also an inspiration.

"I tell the Colombian people, 'Look what happened in Belfast, look how investment is coming in, pouring in, look at the transformation Belfast has been going through - we can do the same if we are able to reach peace'."

Earlier, the President was welcomed to Stormont Castle by First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Santos later held a separate meeting with Secretary of State James Brokenshire.

Mrs Foster said "peace and prosperity" were the two main items on the agenda.

"The Colombian peace process is a priority for their government and I know many organisations and people across Northern Ireland have helped in nudging forward the path to peace," she added.

Mr McGuinness described the President as a "very important visitor".

Belfast Telegraph


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