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Colombia: Peace at Last? (AUDIO)

Peace negotiations began this week between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known as FARC), a guerrilla group that has waged a half-century long offensive against the government. The talks in Oslo, Norway are being billed as Colombia's best chance for peace in decades.

Indeed, a number of developments on the ground give this round of negotiations a shot at real success. To start, the government of President Santos (and President Uribe before him) has crippled the FARC militarily -- killing several of its leaders, pushing them out of urban areas, and damaging the group's ability to communicate. In addition, Santos has begun to respond to many of the underlying grievances that have fueled the FARC insurgency by instituting political reforms in areas such as land restitution and victims' rights. These moves have shown a willingness to compromise that make the FARC's case that war is the only option far less compelling.

This has created new incentives for the FARC, too, to come to the negotiating table. The government's campaign has heavily damaged their military structure and capacity and made it ever clearer that change will not come about through military means. There is also an awareness that over the years FARC's political ideology has grown more and more distant from reality.

Equally, it has become clear that a military option alone is not feasible. Without a comprehensive settlement -- achieved through talks -- the FARC will remain a military menace, albeit on a lesser scale, holding back Colombia's development.

The Santos administration and the FARC have agreed on a set of issues to be addressed in Oslo, including agricultural policy, economic and social development and the political participation of FARC members after they lay down their arms. Civil society groups and NGOs will also be able to convey their views on these key issues to the negotiators.

While there is reason to be hopeful, negotiations also face several obstacles.

First, a number of Colombian politicians, led by former president Álvaro Uribe, oppose talks and are clinging to the belief that the conflict is winnable militarily. Second, some officers within Colombia's military may oppose the talks, reasoning that a peaceful solution would mean cuts to the military budget and the slow erosion of its influence. Third, criminal gangs, known in Colombia as BACRIM, are loathe to see an agreement reached between the government and the FARC for fear that they could become the next government target. Equally, some members of the FARC may want to perpetuate the civil conflict to keep the money flowing from drug trafficking and extortion. Finally, addressing in full the grievances of FARC -- particularly those concerning social inequities -- will prove a considerable challenge to the Colombian state, but essential to sustainable peace.

I spoke last week with Mark Schneider, the International Crisis Group's Senior Vice-President and Special Adviser on Latin America about what to expect in this week's negotiations in Oslo between the Colombian government and the FARC. Listen to our conversation below.

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