Colombian President Thrilled Over Pope's 2017 Visit

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Colombian President Thrilled Over Pope's 2017 Visit

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. (File Photo)


Bogota, Colombia:  Pope Francis will visit Colombia in 2017, and President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday was happy to tell the world how thrilled he is.

The pontiff is a big supporter of the peace process between the Santos administration and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, set to be finalized this year.

The pope's visit was announced in the Vatican Saturday to Luis Augusto Castro, the head of the Colombian conference of bishops.

"In Colombia we will welcome him with enthusiasm and in peace," Santos wrote on Twitter.

Francis has prioritized a visit to Colombia, but this year his agenda is full, Castro told reporters in the Vatican.

He said Francis will visit in the first half of 2017, but did not give a date.

The pope has on several occasions offered his support for the negotiations in the Cuban capital, which are aimed at ending the five decade-long conflict between the Colombian government and leftist rebels.

Many Colombian conservatives, including Santos's popular predecessor in office, Alvaro Uribe, have fiercely criticized the talks, so the mere announcement of the pope's visit will serve to bolster the peace process.

Negotiators in Havana have set a deadline of March 23 to sign a final accord.

The remaining issues to be agreed upon are disarmament and the way the final accord will be ratified, which could be by a popular vote.

The Colombian conflict, which has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced six million, has drawn in right-wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers and several leftist rebel groups, of which the FARC is the oldest and largest remaining.

A rival rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has held exploratory talks with the government but has yet to join the peace process.

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