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Find here a selection of opinion, background and analysis on the social, political and economic situation in Colombia.

Interview with Ted Howell, Sinn Féin Representative

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Can you first of all introduce yourself?

My name is Ted Howell, from Belfast and I am a member of Sinn Fein Ard Chomahirle and I have been involved in the Sinn Fein negotiation team throughout negotiations and implementation of agreements over the past 20-22 years.

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Last week there was an agreement on final and bilateral ceasefire between the FARC-EP and the National Government and about the decommissioning of arms. What do you think of it?

Of course it is another step on the road to the final peace agreement and hopefully that will procede with all due speed as far as can do that. And of course reminded of the words of well known Irish poet W.B. Yeats who once wrote that peace comes dropping slowly and that of course is a reality of the situation: unilateral ceasefire by the FARC has been in place for some time and this is another welcome step in that direction. Anyone with good will towards the Colombian people would properly recognized the fact that the announcement received widespread international support at the level of the UN, from the US and from several Latin American governments which of course has to be welcomed. And of course the role played by both the Norwegian government and the host government of Cuba here is very welcomed and should be greatly appreciated obviously by the protagonist but also by all the international community in this important endeavour. And of course great welcome to the announcement was given by Sinn Fein President and representative in the national parliament of Ireland, Gerry Adams. So, all very positive and we hope that the efforts which have been given to these endeavours continue to come to fruition. 

You have been sharing experiences for some time now with the Peace Delegation of FARC. What do you think are the most important experiences for us from your situation, your peace process?

It's difficult for me to make that sort of assessment, the Peace Delegation will make its own mind on that. We have been only too happy to make any contribution we can and we hope it will be of assistance to the overall process and to the protagonists. Indeed we received a great deal of assistance in the building and implementation of our own process from a number of international actors and not least the South African government, from Nelson Mandela who was extremely helpful in all of this, and his party of course, the ANC. And also from the United States, from president Bill Clinton and especially from the Irish-American community there, at all levels of that community, political representatives, business, Irish American community organizations. As a result of all of that of course we are only too willing to share our experiences with others sharing a similar path and we hope that some of what we have to say to them will be of assistance. What strikes me immediately is that there is no instant fix to this, as Yeats said peace comes dropping slowly. Our own peace process, negotiations and implementation remain an ongoing focus of work that needs nurtured, needs developed. Because in fact what people are trying to deal with is very broad and deep issues related to the causes of conflict and consequences of conflict. So, all of that is very problematic. 

First of all there is no instant fix, secondly there needs to be good will, thirdly, apart from the agreement, and the agreement is of course important, as Senator George Mitchell who chaired the peace talks in Ireland reminded us, reaching agreements is the easy bit, getting them implemented is the difficult one. So it's also important I think to bring your own constituency along with you and from what I am hearing that's what the member of FARC peace makers are doing with their members and supporters, and this is crucial because you have to bring people along with you otherwise you could face difficulties, hard to overcome. 

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So these are some principles, you can't be rushed, you need to bring people with you and of course the very fact that people are seating at a negotiation table means by implication that there is going to be compromise, otherwise there wouldn't be any meaning in talks. Complicating all of that is of course not just dealing with the necessity for a fair and just society and the mechanisms which would bring that about, mechanisms which will then have to ensure equality of treatment and justice for citizens and access to political representation but complicating this is dealing in parallel with the consequences of the conflict and everybody has to be very sensible and mature about that, predictably given all of the serious issues of justice, trust and all of the loss and emotion attached to all of that. 

So those are the ranges of issues which we have to deal with and many of them are still ongoing because as I said gaining a just society, a society which has as its nature the treatment of its most vulnerable and needing, that is the judgement that the very society has to make itself. 

All of this is a very painstaking detailed work and the matter not of just one peace process or political process but a multiple process from now into the future which have to be addressed and dealt with.

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