Colombia's FARC rebels offer to discuss conflict with forum of South American leaders

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia's largest rebel group is offering dialogue on the country's conflict, saying in an Internet posting Monday that it is willing to present its ideas to a forum of South American leaders.

The government rejected the idea of any intermediaries and repeated its stance that negotiations will happen only if the rebels halt attacks and take other steps demonstrating a desire for peace.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said in a statement on an affiliated website that it is willing to "search for a peaceful way out of the conflict." It offered to discuss its ideas before presidents whose countries belong to the Union of South American Nations.

The FARC has traditionally expressed willingness to discuss peace with Colombian governments, and at times has addressed such offers to the international community or bodies such as the United Nations.

Asked about the rebels' statement, Vice President Angelino Garzon repeated the government's stance that the guerrillas must first stop violent acts.

Garzon also reiterated that President Juan Manuel Santos believes "building paths to peace doesn't require intermediaries."

Santos, a former defense minister who took office earlier this month, has said his government is open to dialogue with the rebels, but only if they take concrete steps including halting armed attacks, freeing hostages and expressing a willingness to lay down their arms.