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Colombia opens talks with rebels

Colombia's government has opened "exploratory talks" with the country's main rebel group to try to end a stubborn 50-year-old conflict.

President Juan Manuel Santos announced the move in a brief televised address, confirming mounting rumours of talks, supposedly held in Cuba, between representatives of his government and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is largely a peasant army.

Mr Santos offered no details of the talks, such as when they began, where they had been held, who had participated or what was discussed.

"In the coming days the results of the conversations with the FARC will become known," said Mr Santos, whose government was able to secure congressional enactment in June of a "peace framework" law that would provide amnesty to rebel leaders.

The FARC, estimated to number about 9,000 fighters, suffered major defeats during a decade-long US-backed military build-up from 2000-2010 but has recently stepped up hit-and-run attacks, including sabotage of oil and coal mining installations.

On Sunday, a car bomb in a rural area of the south-eastern state of Meta killed six people, including two children.

Mr Santos said military operations would continue "on every single centimetre of national territory" during whatever peace process might emerge.

That statement was a clear allusion to the last peace dialogue held with the FARC, when the government surrendered a Switzerland-sized swathe of southern Colombia to the rebels from 1999-2002 and reconciliation efforts collapsed as the guerrillas continued to mount attacks on security forces, kidnap politicians and traffic in cocaine.

"We will learn from the errors of the past in order not to repeat them," Mr Santos said.

His announcement followed a report by Venezuelan TV network Telesur that Colombia signed an agreement in Havana, Cuba, earlier in the day to begin peace talks in Oslo, Norway beginning in October. Colombian officials would neither confirm nor deny those reports.

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