.- Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, called on the members of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) to abandon violence and to opt instead for a negotiated settlement to the country’s civil conflict.
During the opening of the bishops’ Plenary Assembly in Bogota, Archbishop Castro said the only thing that can be done now is “the initiation of preliminary discussions which, in due course, may lead to taking effective steps towards a ceasefire and a definitive process of reconciliation and peace.”
The archbishop also noted that “at this moment of profound divergence between the FARC and the government of President Alvaro Uribe, we feel the urge to remind the insurgents that peace is not something made with friends, but with enemies.”
In recent weeks FARC spokesmen have said an agreement with President Uribe is impossible, but they did not discount the possibility of negotiating with the government over the exchange of hostages for prisoners, something that has not been possible up to now due to disagreements between the two parties over the best location for such an exchange.
Archbishop Castro said the Church would continue “discreetly but persistently” working for a release of the hostages held by rebels.
On the other hand, he noted that the bishops were pleased with the progress being made in negotiations between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), another left-wing insurgent group, and with the demobilization of various contingents of the right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC).
Archbishop Castro said the Church’s vision of peace is not simply one of “a ceasefire or end of hostilities,” but rather “one of an ending of the armed conflict while at the same time working for a solution to the social conflict.”