Colombian rebels optimistic on peace talks

Marxist FARC rebels and Colombian government negotiators have wrapped up the first round of talks aimed at ending Latin America's longest-running insurgency.

The issues covered at the peace talks in Havana included the political and legal future of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, drug trafficking and compensation for victims of violence.

Ricardo Tellez, negotiating for FARC, told journalists it was still early for a breakthrough.

"Very serious, deep matters were covered. These (peace talks) have just started, 11 days would be a long time to build a small house but to build just dialogue it's normal, it's the start. There was even space to laugh, for a joke," he said.

In an effort to bolster talks, FARC declared a two-month unilateral ceasefire and vowed to halt all offensive military operations and acts of sabotage against infrastructure until mid January.

Laying down arms

Ivan Marquez, leading FARC negotiator, spoke of efforts to lay down arms to support peace: "We were not frightened by the issue of giving up our weapons because we believe that if we get rid of the causes that generate conflict, there would be no reason, no justification for the use of arms."

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's president, rebuffed the move and said the government would not reciprocate by halting military operations.

Dutch FARC member Tanja Nijmeijer played down the differences between both sides, saying the talks have helped build rapport.

"The atmosphere during the talks is very good. There's even space for little jokes, for laughing. It's a really good atmosphere I think. The talks are going very well. We have been talking about the participation of the Colombian people," she said.

Marquez also said he welcomed efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who was instrumental in bringing both sides together by holding meetings with Colombia's Santos and Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro earlier this year to help kick off the talks.

"(Venezuelan) President (Hugo) Chavez and Venezuela are on the side of peace in Colombia and peace in the region.
We only have words of gratitude for President Chavez," he said.