Colombian president on UK state visit as peace deal teeters

LONDON (AP) " Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos began a three-day state visit to Britain Tuesday, telling lawmakers that his country wants to boost trade with Britain after the U.K. leaves the European Union and Colombia cements an end to its decades-long civil war.

Santos, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last month for his efforts to end Colombia's bloodshed, said in a speech to both houses of Britain's Parliament that the two nations should "substantially increase our bilateral trade and investment."

"British investment in our country, already sizeable, will be able to grow with much more confidence and peace of mind in a country that has ceased to suffer the effects of an armed conflict," Santos said.

The state visit is the first to Britain by a Colombian leader, and is being used by U.K. officials to highlight Britain's international focus as it prepares to leave the EU. Exit negotiations are expected to start in early 2019 and last at least two years.

"Colombia is on the verge of a historic peace agreement and through our ongoing support for the country the U.K, is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that will follow," said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Earlier, Santos was welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II at a military ceremony " while at home his government tries to salvage a hard-won deal to end decades of violence.

Santos was greeted by the queen, her husband Prince Philip, Prime Minister Theresa May and other dignitaries at Horse Guards Parade, a historic parade-ground in the heart of London. The band of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards played Colombia's national anthem, and Santos inspected an honor guard of troops clad in gray greatcoats and bearskin hats.

After the ceremony the royals and their guests traveled by horse-drawn carriage to Buckingham Palace, where Santos and his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez de Santos, will stay.

Tuesday's schedule includes a state banquet at the palace for 170 guests. The giant London Eye Ferris wheel beside the River Thames will be lit up in yellow, blue and red, the colors of the Colombian flag.

Santos won the Nobel Prize for striking a deal with Colombia's main rebel group to end the South American country's civil war, which has killed more than 200,000 people. But the peace pact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was narrowly rejected by voters in an Oct. 2 referendum.

Santos told Britain's Observer newspaper that he was "working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with my team to get another agreement."

"This uncertainty is very risky, because anything could happen that could really make the process explode," he said.

Santos is due to hold talks with May at 10 Downing St. on Wednesday. He will also travel to Northern Ireland, where a decades-long civil conflict was ended through political negotiation in the 1990s.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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