Can Northern Ireland act as a template for Colombia?

Demobilized Farc fighters escorted by troops, September 2012 The Farc began fighting the Colombian state in 1964

Related Stories

Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, there may be scepticism at home about the weaknesses of the Stormont assembly and executive.

But in some other parts of the world Northern Ireland's 1998 peace deal is still being closely studied as a potential model for resolving conflict.

As many as half a million people are thought to have died in the long running war in Colombia between the government in Bogota and the Marxist FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which control areas in the south of the Latin American country.

I was recently invited to speak about the challenges of reporting such peace negotiations to Colombian journalists and media students at Rosario University in Bogota.

Thousands of miles apart, the two conflict zones became briefly linked in 2001 when three Irish republicans were arrested by the Colombian authorities, and later convicted of training the FARC guerrillas.

Around the same time the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government held a series of peace talks - but the process broke up amidst bitter recriminations.

Now delegates from both sides are once again at the negotiating table - although this time they are keeping the details of their discussions under wraps and staying well away from the Colombian media in seclusion in the Cuban capital of Havana.

Some key issues - like land reform - have no obvious parallel in the Stormont process.

But others - such as disarmament, the treatment of victims, and discussion of how former combatants might participate in politics are more familiar.

Maria Jimenez Dusan is one of very few journalists to have visited the Havana negotiators.

She says the talks delegates are well aware of Northern Ireland's peace process and hope it might provide a route towards a better future.

Mark Devenport addressing delegates at conference in Bogota Mark Devenport spoke about the challenges of reporting peace negotiations to Colombian journalists and media students at Rosario University in Bogota

"Of all the processes in the world," she tells me "Northern Ireland is number one. It's amazing how much of a help it has been."

At Bogota's Rosario University media students have been discussing the coverage of the Northern Ireland talks and the fairly low profile reporting of the Havana discussions.

Chairing the seminar is Alvaro Sierra, editor of Colombia's weekly news magazine Semana.

Mr Sierra says that although the Colombian public may not be au fait with the Northern Ireland process, the politicians have followed it closely.

With elections due next year, Mr Sierra is cautiously optimistic that both sides appear ready to resolve their differences by talking rather than shooting.

Before anyone gets carried away drawing up parallels, it's important to point out that Colombia and Northern Ireland are very different places that have experienced very different conflicts.

Even accounting for Colombia's larger population its casualty levels have been around five times greater than the death toll during the Troubles.

Journalists trying to report politics and violence have often found themselves in the frontline - an estimated 140 Colombian journalists have been killed since the mid 1970s.

Even if the government and the FARC strike a deal, Colombia will face many other challenges from right wing paramilitaries and drugs traffickers.

That said, Northern Ireland, with its dependence on subsidies, would envy the oil, coal, emeralds, gold and coffee that have put Colombia at the forefront of South America's recent economic surge.

Maria Jimenez Dusan knows the human cost of the Colombian conflict - she lost her sister in a paramilitary massacre.

But after returning from the Havana talks she is daring to dream, telling me: "FARC, one of the oldest guerrilla organisations in the world, may be about to become a part of the political establishment here. I just wonder whether the people living in this country are ready for the change. I hope they are."

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Northern Ireland stories

RSS

BBC News NI Live

  1.  
    10:56: Tobacco display ban:

    The Department of Health is reminding people that there is one month to go until all retailers, including shops, bars and clubs are banned from displaying tobacco products.

    Tobacco displays

    The new law comes into force on 6 April. Tobacco displays in large shops and supermarkets were banned in October 2012.

     
  2.  
    10:43: McCoy's top 10: BBC Sport NI

    It's nearly the end of a glorious career for AP McCoy. The 19-time champion jockey retires at the end of this season and, in looking back, he has revealed his top 10 favourite horses.

    AP McCoy

    You can read the rundown or listen back to last night's BBC 5 live programme where he explains his choices.

     
  3.  
    10:30: From film to farm: Nicola Weir BBC NI News

    Here's me with the real Boogaloo and Graham, stars of the Oscar-nominated short film. I met them at Fort Hill Farm, Tandragee, that supplies animals to various movies and TV shows filmed in Northern Ireland.

    Nicola Weir

    I spoke to Kenny Gracey, who owns the farm, for the Stephen Nolan Show.

     
  4.  
    10:18: Unionist 'should agree' pacts:

    A former Ulster Unionist MP says the DUP should step aside in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and allow the UUP a free run in the general election to try and oust Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew.

    Martin Smith

    Rev Martin Smyth told BBC's The View that DUP and UUP should co-operate in order to maximise the unionist vote.

     
  5.  
    10:07: McIlroy down the field: BBC Sport NI

    Rory McIlroy's poor form continued with a one-over-par 73 in the first round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, leaving him 11 shots off the lead.

    Rory McIlroy

    But McIlroy, who started on the back nine, did recover from being four over at halfway, fighting back with three birdies and an eagle.

     
  6.  
    09:57: Changeable weather: Angie Phillips BBC News NI Weather Presenter

    Temperatures and weather will see-saw over the weekend. It'll be wet and windy again Monday then drier and brighter on Tuesday.

    Friday weather
     
  7.  
    09:42: Civil servants register interest in redundancy scheme John Campbell BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor
    civil service redundancy
     
  8.  
    09:31: Derry "mad as hell": Derry Journal

    Veteran rights campaigner Eamonn McCann says Londonderry remains "mad as hell" over the decision 50 years ago not to create a major university presence in the city, the Derry Journal reports.

    Magee
     
  9.  
    09:19: Sprucefield collision moved: BBC NI Travel

    Collision on the M1 at Sprucefield has been moved to hard shoulder, therefore traffic heading towards Belfast should ease soon on M1 and A1.

     
  10.  
    09:02: Man arrested after M1 crash

    A 29 year old man has been arrested after a collision on the M1 at Sprucefield this morning which is still causing long tailbacks.

    traffic tailback

    It follows the theft of a car at Banbridge at 7.40am. The man was arrested on suspicion of burglary and dangerous driving.

     
  11.  
    08:58: Extra smoke breaks? Good Morning Ulster

    Should smokers get special rights and extra breaks at work? That's the question posed by Good Morning Ulster reporter Rick Faragher in this morning's programme.

    Smoking

    Charities have appealed for employers to help staff who smoke to quit.

     
  12.  
    08:44: Man 'trapped in machinery':

    Harbour police confirm that the man who was seriously injured yesterday at Hayes Fuels in Belfast, was trapped in machinery.

    Man trapped
     
  13.  
    08:34: Tyrone unchanged: BBC Sport NI

    Tyrone boss Mickey Harte has named an unchanged side for Saturday's Division One match away to Dublin.

    Mattie Donnelly

    Harte has picked a half-forward line made up entirely of recognised defenders for the trip to Croke Park, including Mattie Donnelly.

     
  14.  
    08:21: Waterside repair underway Northern Ireland Water

    A number of homes are off supply at Tirbracken Road in Londonderry due to a burst main. A repair is underway and it's hoped to have supply restored soon.

     
  15.  
    08:12: M1 crash causing tailbacks

    The situation at the M1 collision at Sprucefield.

    crash

    Traffic appears to be passing in the outside lane looking at the Traffic Watch NI cameras.

     
  16.  
    08:02: M1 blocked at Sprucefield BBC NI Travel

    Collision on M1 at Sprucefield. Two lanes blocked heading towards Belfast

     
  17.  
    07:49: Carrick train cancelled: Translink
    tweet
     
  18.  
    07:41: No Evans response to spitting charge: BBC Sport NI

    Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans has yet to respond to an FA charge but has denied deliberately spitting at Papiss Cisse.

    Jonny Evans

    Cisse has accepted a similar charges and released a statement apologising for his actions.

     
  19.  
    07:29: Weekend weather: Angie Phillips BBC News NI Weather Presenter

    I have your latest online video forecast for today & the weekend

    weather
     
  20.  
    07:15: Shot men stable:

    Two men in their 30s are in a stable condition after being shot in the legs in Poleglass, on the outskirts of west Belfast.

    Poleglass

    It happened in the Glenkeen area at about 20:45 GMT on Thursday.

     
  21.  
    07:02: Hurt man 'critical':

    The Belfast Health Trust says that the man hurt in a workplace incident at Hayes Fuels in Belfast is still in a critical condition.

    Hayes Fuels

    The man suffered serious injuries at the premises in Belfast Harbour.

     
  22.  
    07:00: Good morning Ciaran McCauley BBC News NI

    Hope it's a good Friday for you all - we'll be bringing you all the news, sport, weather and travel up until 19:00.

     

Features

  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world


  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage


  • Target practice for Lithuanian troopsBaltic shiver

    Europe editor Katya Adler on the alarm at Russian muscle-flexing


  • Ruben ReuterRuben returns Watch

    Child TV star with Down's syndrome on life away from home


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show

Programmes

  • A cyborg cockroachClick Watch

    The cyborg cockroach – why has a computer been attached to this insect’s nervous system?

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.