BELFAST: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said during a visit to Belfast on Thursday he was trying to follow Northern Ireland’s path to peace and prosperity.
Santos met Northern Irish First Minister Arlene Foster and her deputy Martin McGuinness at the end of a three-day state visit to the United Kingdom, the first by a Colombian president.
Santos won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to implement a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, but voters rejected the hard-fought agreement in a referendum on October 2.
“The peace process (in Northern Ireland) has been an inspiration to us, to me,” he said.
“I tell the Colombian people, ‘look what happened in Belfast, look how investment is coming in, pouring in, look at the transformation Belfast has been going through — we can do the same if we are able to reach peace’.
“I have followed the perseverance and the tenacity with which you solved this very long and terrible conflict here in Northern Ireland and it has been truly an example that I’ve been trying to follow.”
Foster told Santos that it was a “challenging path but one worth travelling”.
Santos was briefly caught up in the Northern Irish “Troubles” when, as a young man working in London, he was thrown to the ground by a bomb left in a rubbish bin by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary group.
McGuinness, a former IRA commander, said many people had seen no end to the conflict in Northern Ireland but “political courage” eventually brought about the transformation.
“The Colombian peace process is in a very strong position and there’s a real prospect that it will succeed,” he said.
‘Talk to your enemies’
Quintin Oliver, a conflict resolution specialist from Stratagem International, said the circumstances in Northern Ireland were very different from those of Colombia, but added there were lessons Santos could learn.
“The main one is inclusivity. You have to talk to your enemies, not only with your friends,” said Oliver.
Earlier, Santos said farewell to Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip after staying with them at Buckingham Palace in London.
At a lavish state banquet on Wednesday, the 90-year-old monarch told the president that finding the balance between opposing factions required “patience, resourcefulness and grit”.
“The waging of peace is the hardest form of leadership of all, but also the most rewarding,” the sovereign said in her speech.
Santos also held talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May during his visit, which began with a ceremonial welcome and a horse-drawn carriage procession.
Britain is reaching out to emerging markets before its exit from the European Union.
“I am determined that Britain should become the global champion of free trade, and that means boosting trade with fast-growing economies like Colombia,” May said after the talks.