On Thursday Colombian officials and the leaders of the far-right paramilitaries met in public for the first time. It happened during a ceremony that the government hopes will boost efforts to disarm around 20,000 outlaws, quotes Reuters.
Swapping military fatigues for civilian clothes, bosses of the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a militia that targets Marxist rebels and is accused of rights abuses, shared the podium with government officials and international observers during a meeting to mark the launch of formal peace talks.
Although militia leaders and government envoys have been talking in secret since July 2003, the carefully orchestrated ceremony in Santa Fe de Ralito, in the midst of a government-designated safe haven in northern Colombia, was the first time the two sides took the shaky peace process public.
The heads of the government delegation are the Peace Commissioner Luis Restrepo and Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt de la Vega. Those from AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) side include its top 10 leaders.
The AUC, is an organization mainly funded by landowners and drug dealers. It was founded in April 1997 for fighting left-wing guerrillas who also try to control plantations and sales of coca leaves.