Colombia's war victims ask country to support peace talks

HAVANA - Victims of Colombia's 50-year-old war pleaded with peace negotiators to reach a deal and said they were willing to forgive heinous acts of cruelty, urging Colombians to unite behind the effort to end the bloodshed.

Twelve victims from all sides in the Colombian conflict addressed peace negotiators in Havana, marking the first time victims have been given an official voice in peace talks to end a war that has killed 200,000 people. In all 60 victims will speak to representatives of the Colombian government and leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who have been working toward a comprehensive peace plan with Cuba as host for nearly two years.

"If we who have been directly affected by violence can take this step and have this encounter, why can't the rest of the country? Why can't the rest of the country forgive," said Constanza Turbay, whose entire family of politicians was killed by the FARC. One of her brothers died while kidnapped in 1997. Another brother, president of a peace commission, was assassinated along with their mother and five other people in 2000.

She and 11 other victims of the FARC, the army and right-wing paramilitary groups spoke to reporters after addressing peace negotiators behind closed doors. President Juan Manuel Santos won re-election in June after staking his political future on peace talks, while challenger Oscar Zuluaga criticized the talks and threatening to end them. Many Colombians flatly oppose negotiations, preferring to keep military pressure on the FARC.

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Aaj Kal