HAVANA – A spokesman for Colombia's main leftist guerrilla army said Friday that President Juan Manuel Santos' rejection of a proposed cease-fire will not derail next month's peace talks on ending a half-century of armed struggle.
There is plenty of mistrust and bad blood to overcome but the cease-fire issue is not insurmountable, said Marco Calarca of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Nor, he said, is the seeming improbability of a guerrilla imprisoned in the United States being freed to take part in the talks, as the rebels want.
"These obstacles are nothing compared with all that has accumulated from more than 50 years of violence, which we are trying to solve through dialogue," Calarca said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. "In that sense, looking at things optimistically, we think there is no problem we can't solve."
With both sides repeatedly stressing the importance of having the will to make peace talks succeed, it was a surprisingly positive message just a day after Colombia's government and the FARC seemed to be at loggerheads.
The rebels announced Thursday that a cease-fire was tops on their negotiating agenda, but Santos promptly said it wasn't in the cards.
"There's not going to be any cease-fire," the president told reporters Thursday night. "We will not give anything until we get the final agreement, and I want to make that very clear."
Santos added that Colombia's military and police had even been told to intensify offensive actions.
Calarca spoke with the AP in Havana, where representatives of the FARC and the Colombian government spent six months hammering out an agreement announced this week to formally open peace talks Oct. 8 in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
A decade ago, peace negotiations fell apart after Colombia had ceded a Switzerland-size parcel of the country as a safe haven for the FARC, which used it as a base to continue waging war elsewhere, extorting, kidnapping and drug trafficking.
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi contributed to this report.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP