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Pope in Cuba begs Colombia, rebels to end conflict

/ 05:53 AM September 21, 2015
Pope Francis holds his pastoral staff as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, where a sculpture of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara and a Cuban flag decorate a nearby government building. Pope Francis opens his first full day in Cuba on Sunday with what normally would be the culminating highlight of a papal visit: Mass before hundreds of thousands of people in Havana's Revolution Plaza. AP

Pope Francis holds his pastoral staff as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, where a sculpture of revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara and a Cuban flag decorate a nearby government building. Pope Francis opens his first full day in Cuba on Sunday with what normally would be the culminating highlight of a papal visit: Mass before hundreds of thousands of people in Havana’s Revolution Plaza. AP

HAVANA, Cuba — Pope Francis begged the Colombian government and rebels on Sunday to end South America’s longest-running conflict, saying they simply had no right to let ongoing peace talks fail.

Fresh off his personal appeal to the U.S. and Cuban leaders to end their half-century of estrangement, Francis issued his plea to Colombia’s warring factions from Havana’s Revolution Plaza at the end of his Sunday Mass. Cuba has hosted peace talks for more than two years between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and representatives of Bogota.

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Francis said the talks face a “crucial” moment.

“May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict” sustain efforts to find a definitive peace, he said. “Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation.”

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has pushed the talks, issued a tweet in response to thank the pope “for your permanent prayers. We will continue on the road of peace and reconciliation.”

The FARC leader known by his alias Ivan Marquez quoted the pope in a tweet of his own: “As the pope said: We don’t have the right to allow another failure in this path of peace and reconciliation. We need a peaceful society.”

In his remarks, Francis added on a word of gratitude to President Raul Castro for his efforts to assist the negotiations; the appeal was followed by a round of applause from the crowd.

In more than two years of negotiations, rebel and government negotiators have reached tentative agreements on land reform, how to jointly combat drug trafficking and the future role in politics for guerrillas that lay down their weapons. The rebel movement, known as the FARC, in recent months also has largely adhered to a unilateral cease-fire, prompting the government to suspend the aerial bombing of guerrilla camps.

But despite the advances, a number of obstacles remain to ending the half-century conflict, chief among them the thorny issue of whether rebel commanders behind scores of human rights abuses will be punished with prison time.

Polls indicate most Colombians support a negotiated settlement but have increasingly little faith the FARC will deliver on its promises.

The FARC leader, Marquez, said in August that the rebels wanted to meet with the pope during his visit to Cuba, saying it would help reinforce the efforts of millions of Colombians.

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But the Vatican made clear no such meeting would take place, given Francis wanted his visit to focus on Cuba. His appeal Sunday appeared to be a way to address the conflict without derailing his overall Cuban focus.

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TAGS: Colombia, Cuba, Juan Manuel Santos, Pope Francis, South America
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