“I decided to forgive him,” says former child soldier

Colombia’s talks to end a six-decade-long civil war (in which an estimated 220,000 have been killed and thousands more abducted) .offer valuable lessons. One big one is how to create an atmosphere that can soften attitudes before hard decisions have to be made.

Recently, the government and the main rebel group known as FARC announced that they will work together to remove land mines and other buried explosives, even as talks continue. By focusing on a humanitarian project, the rebels and their counterparts in the military may be able to build up enough trust – perhaps even empathy – to ease the negotiations.

In February, FARC said it will no longer recruit guerrillas under 17 years old, a gesture aimed at lessening tensions over its use of child soldiers. In December, the group began a unilateral cease-fire. In early March,  President Juan Manuel Santos ordered a temporary halt to aerial bombing of the left-wing Marxist group’s positions

Since talks began in 2012, the two sides have agreed on ways to reallocate land to the rural poor, to end illegal production of drugs if a final peace deal can be reached. They agreed that many members of the rebel group should eventually participate in politics. And they decided to eventually set up a truth commission to investigate the deaths and human rights violations of innocent people

The seeds for reconciliation between Colombians are being planted, as Mr. Santos puts it. To be sure, decades of war have created bitter, hardened stances. Most Colombians do not favor any amnesty for rebels who have killed innocent people. But a compromise form of punishment might be agreed upon, one that might even satisfy Colombia’s obligation to the International Criminal Court.

If enough acts of patience and mutual sympathy can be stored up, final breakthroughs might be possible. Acts of reconciliation both public and private have taken place. At a recent one, 27 year-old Carlos, who had been abducted by FARC as a teenager 12 years ago, met face-to-face with the responsible paramilitary warlord, now serving a jail term for war-crimes. “I decided to forgive him once he apologized,” Carlos said.  “He recognized the wrong he had done and apologized.

Adapted from The Christian Science Monitor of March 17 and March 30, 2015