FARC negotiator says disarming will be 'long process'

Havana (AFP) - Colombia's FARC guerrillas will not give up their weapons at once, and need guarantees from the government to disarm, a negotiator said Tuesday as the peace process marked two years.

Cementing a ceasefire and disarming the leftist rebel group are among the thorniest topics remaining in the talks, the fourth and most promising attempt so far to end the 50-year-old conflict.

As a "subcommittee" of army officers and rebels got down to work on the issue, FARC negotiator Andres Paris warned there would be no instant solution.

"No one has suggested to the FARC, nor have we ever said to the government, that there would be a single moment when we would hand over our arms. I repeat, there will be no photo op of the FARC handing over its arms," Paris told AFP in an interview.

"We see disarmament as a long process."

A ceasefire and disarmament are the next item on the schedule for the peace process, which was launched on August 26, 2012 with the signing of an agreement that laid out a six-point agenda for negotiations.

The talks in Havana have so far produced deals on three points: land reform, political participation for the rebels and curbing the drug trafficking that has fueled the conflict.

The two sides are currently working on the issues of reparations for victims and disarmament, and are then due to tackle the question of how the final peace agreement will be ratified.

As the ceasefire subcommittee began work last week -- the first time active combatants from both sides came together around the same table at the talks -- both the rebels and government called it a sign of progress.

But Paris said ending hostilities would take guarantees and time.

"The ceasefire issue overlaps or interlocks with the issue of political guarantees," he said.

The government says that land reform "can't happen in a short time. They talk about 10 years. But when they talk about disarmament, they tell us, 'You could do that in a day.' That's absurd," he added.

"What's going to make our weapons disappear is turning our guerrilla force into a political party, not handing over our arms."

- 'Long home stretch' -

Since the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was founded in the 1960s, the Colombian conflict has killed 220,000 people and caused more than five million to flee their homes.

Latin America's longest-running conflict, it grew out of decades of ideologically driven violence sparked by the 1948 assassination of liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.

Over the years, it has drawn in drug gangs and rightwing paramilitaries -- now officially disbanded -- as it has defied three previous peace bids.

The current negotiations opened in November 2012 after months of secret brokering by late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

They have survived Chavez's death, revelations of spying on the talks by Colombian army intelligence, and a June presidential election widely viewed as a referendum on continuing the peace process.

Paris said that while there was still "a long road to walk," the talks had gone further than any previous peace attempt.

"We've advanced a lot. What the two delegations, the government and the guerrillas, have accomplished must be considered a truly golden achievement," he said.

Experts agreed there had been substantial progress but warned a definitive peace deal was far from certain.

"Never before has Colombia had a peace process as advanced as this one," said Ariel Avila of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation in Bogota.

But he said a final agreement should be reached within the next six to seven months because after that, "the conversations would become so long the process would run out of steam and no one would believe in it."

Christian Voelkel of the International Crisis Group in Bogota said the remaining discussions were politically and socially sensitive.

"The process is in the home stretch, but it's a pretty long stretch," he said.