- The government and rebels are scheduled to sit down for peace talks next month
- "The conditions are right" for negotiated end to conflict, Juan Manuel Santos says
- The president stresses there will be no cease-fire while the two are in talks
- "Making war is much easier than making peace," says Santos
By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that FARC guerillas must be permitted to participate in the political process, in an interivew with CNN's Christiane Amanpour that aired Friday.
Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, are scheduled meet with representatives of the government for peace talks in Oslo, Norway, next month.
The two sides have been at war since the 1960s, making the FARC Latin America's oldest insurgency.
"You can't ask the FARC to simply kneel down, surrender and give us the arms. They will not do that, so there has to be some kind of way out, and this way out has to be you can be able to participate in the political arena. This is a way any conflict is settled, not only the Colombian conflict," Santos said in New York.
He was in town for meetings at the United Nations.
The president stressed that there would be no cease-fire while the two sides are in talks, though the rebels have said they would ask for one.
"I've told them there will be cease-fire and we will stop any military operation when we reach a final agreement," he said. "And if I see that there's no progress, that they are simply trying to buy time, I will stand up and continue business as usual. And that's why there's no cease-fire, no decrease in our military operations, and my government agenda will continue as it was until then."
Still, Santos said he was hopeful about the prospect for peace. The sides were able to negotiate a "short" and "pragmatic" agenda, he said.
"This was a tremendous breakthrough, because so far, they have insisted in negotiating the causes of the conflict, which is foreign investment, social policy, international relations. I told them: 'That could be discussed in Congress when you win an election but not in the negotiating table, armed. That is a no-no.' "
Peace talks between the rebels and the government have occurred sporadically since the 1980s. The last attempt fell apart in 2002. Then-President Andres Pastrana ceded an area the size of Switzerland to the guerrilla group but ended negotiations after rebels launched a series of attacks across the country in an apparent bid to strengthen their position.
The FARC continues to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces, though it has been severely weakened in recent years, thanks in part to a U.S.-backed security campaign.
"I knew that if you did not strike them hard, you would never take them to a negotiating table. Modesty apart, in 50 years, nobody has hit them as hard as I have. Making war is much easier than making peace," Santos said.
When asked whether he felt the group was on its "back foot," the president replied, "This is a fact.
"Militarily, they cannot take over any of the towns or any military bases. They can only do terrorism, which is a show of weakness. But in every struggle, in every conflict like this one, you have to try to find a negotiated end to the conflict, and that's why I think the conditions are right to find this negotiated end."
Also helping encourage talks at this time, Santos said, are the participation of other countries - including Norway, Cuba and Venezuela - and the fact that the rebels are realizing that their goals cannot be achieved through violence.
When asked if he would give amnesty to members of the FARC, Santos bluntly answered “I cannot.” He cited the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which Colombia is a party, as part of his reasoning. “But, again, there's a transitional justice, and that's what we have to sit down and negotiate, what type of transitional justice we can apply to this case. And that's part of the negotiation.”
Santos said he had been thinking about the possibility of peace ever since the FARC's military commander was killed in 2010.
He defended himself against his critics, chief among them former President Alvaro Uribe, under whom he served as defense minister.
The two are now rivals, and Uribe has accused Santos of neglecting the nation's security in favor of negotiating with terrorists.
"Some people think that peace can be achieved by killing the last member of the FARC, and that is not possible," Santos said.
Talks between the government and rebels are scheduled to start in Oslo on October 8.
CNN’s Juliet Fuisz produced this piece for television.