Sweden in secret mediation efforts in Colombia

MEXICO CITY. The Swedish government has been deeply involved in mediation efforts in Colombia, leaked diplomatic cables reveal. As late as in February there were plans to arrange a secret meeting on Swedish soil with representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla.

The cables were sent from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, released by Wikileaks and published by Spanish newspaper El Pais, and in them American diplomats mention Sweden as a key player in the attempts to reactivate the peace process in Colombia.

In a dispatch dated February 11 this year a meeting with the Colombian Peace Commissioner Frank Pearl is described. He is to have said that the FARC had agreed to let two of its guerrilla leaders meet an envoy from the Colombian government.

The meeting with FARC was to be held in Sweden. According to Pearl, the Swedish Government was deeply involved in discussions on how to arrange the transport for the guerrilla members.

The U.S. diplomats appeared to have been surprised by the information, since it was noted in the report that Sweden's Ambassador to Colombia, Lena Nordström, had not mentioned this in earlier meetings.

The ambassador proved equally reticent when contacted by Dagens Nyheter.

“I have no comments at all”, said Ambassador Nordström.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also declined to comment on the leaked documents or what role Sweden might play in a Colombian peace process.

The issue is a controversial one, since the Marxist FARC is branded a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and the European Union.

Therefore, it it worth noting that the The International Council of Swedish Industry, NIR, appears to have played an important part in contacting the FARC. Its chairman Erik Belfrage is an influential adviser within the Wallenberg sphere, controlling several of Sweden’s largest corporations.

In one of the cables a person described as “a former Swedish Ambassador to Colombia and current head of NIR" was said to have been in direct contact with the FARC leadership through a guerilla member residing in Sweden.

At NIR's headquarters in Stockholm CEO Erica Molin didn’t want to comment on the information at first, but then asked Dagens Nyheter to correct what she believed was an error made in the cable:

- I am the head of NIR, but I have not been an Ambassador. However, we have an advisor who was previously Ambassador to Colombia.

What is the name of that adviser?

- No further comments, said Erica Molin.

On Wednesday the FARC declared it was preparing to release five "prisoners of war", as a recognition of Colombian mediator Piedad Cordoba’s work. In the leaked diplomatic cables Córdoba was described as an important figure in the Swedish mediation efforts, but since they were written an investigation of alleged involvement with the guerrillas has marginalized her.

In Colombia, the news of the upcoming release of prisoners brought hope of a resumption of the peace process. However, it remained unclear what role, if any, the Swedish government was playing in it.

Erik de la Reguera

This is a translation of an article originally written in Swedish and published in Dagens Nyheter the 10th of December 2010. Here's a the link to the article in Swedish: http://www.dn.se/nyheter/varlden/sverige-medlade-med-farc-gerillan-1.1224872