Norway hails Colombia peace talks

Norway, which is to host peace talks between Colombia's leftist FARC rebels and the government, on Tuesday praised both parties for taking a first step towards ending the conflict.

"It takes courage to seek peace. I would like to commend the parties for entering into a dialogue that could bring an end to the protracted armed
conflict in Colombia," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in a statement.

The minister said Norway, which has played peacemaking roles in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in conflicts in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, had signalled its willingness to assist following requests from both sides.

"In the phase they are about to enter, they will face major challenges. We share the hopes of the Colombian people that a peaceful solution is within reach," he said.

"Norway will do its best to continue to assist the parties in the time ahead," he added.

Støre said Norway contributed to "secret talks" that took place in the last six months in Havana with the aim of laying the groundwork for future
Colombian peace negotiations.

The leader of the FARC rebels earlier confirmed the start of formal peace talks with the government in a message delivered to reporters in Havana.

Rodrigo Londono, also known as "Timochenko," announced "the end of exploratory talks and the beginning of negotiations on the difficult, but
necessary, road to peace", rebel commander Mauricio Jaramillo told reporters.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the talks would begin in Oslo in the first half of October before moving to Havana.

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