Colombian President pays tribute to peace process in flying visit to Belfast
THE President of Colombia has hailed the Northern Ireland peace process as the inspiration that is driving him to reach an agreement in his own country.
Juan Manuel Santos met the First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont on Thursday before meeting with Secretary of State James Brokenshire.
The Colombian President, who has been on a State visit to the UK this week, paid a visit to Belfast before returning to London.
He also attended a business and civic lunch at the Titanic Centre and took a tour of the Girdwood community hub on the peace line in the north of the city.
Several political figures from Northern Ireland have been involved in assisting the Colombian President and left-wing rebel group Farc reach a peace deal.
In a newspaper column earlier this week, Mr Santos wrote that the success of the north's peace process is "a constant reminder of what is possible."
He wrote: "I want to say to the people of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in general: we have learnt from your past, we admire your present and look forward to continue working with you in the future."
Mr Santos is currently attempting to revive the landmark agreement signed with Farc after four years of negotiations.
The deal was narrowly rejected in a referendum last month, with 50.2% voting against it.
Mr Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work just days after the referendum.
The First Minister Arlene Foster said: "I know many organisations and people across Northern Ireland have helped in nudging forward the path to peace. It is a challenging path but one worth travelling.
"Promoting international sales is a key priority and I am confident our relationship with the Colombian market will be one that continues to grow."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "Many of us have been very much involved over the course of recent years in supporting negotiations that were taking place in Havana between the Farc and Colombian government.
"Of course we are delighted at the successful outcome of those negotiations. We know there was a disappointment about the failure of the referendum to pass but the peace process continues."
More than 220,000 people were killed in the conflict in Colombia, which lasted 52 years, with more than eight million driven from their homes.
President Santos' cousin, Francisco Santos, who was the country's vice-president at the time of the convictions of the Colombia Three, said in 2005 that if the Republic did not extradite the three men then they should serve their sentences in an Irish jail.