OTTAWA — Colombia's Nobel Peace Prize-winning president thanked Canadians Monday for their support of his country's peace process — support that was bolstered by what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a "bilateral police initiative," and the prospect of peacekeepers.
"This (police) effort will support post-conflict policing efforts in Colombia and will see Canadian police providing training, capacity building and strategic advice to our Colombian friends," Trudeau announced after meeting with Juan Manuel Santos in his Parliament Hill office.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was reportedly briefed last year on a proposal to contribute up to 10 police officers to peace efforts in Colombia, but it wasn't clear Monday whether the bilateral deployment was a part of that plan.
Canada will also deploy a government expert to Colombia to work alongside the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the prime minister said.
And Trudeau left the door open to a possible deployment of peacekeepers to Columbia, characterizing the policing effort as a separate initiative.
"That will not take the place of any further announcement on Canadian peacekeeping that we might be making," Trudeau said of the initiative when pressed by a Colombian reporter.
Santos was met with blustery winds and a driving rain earlier in the day as he arrived at Rideau Hall, where the weather forced the official welcome and an honour guard ceremony indoors.
The rain had drenched Ottawa before Santos could be greeted by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, who was hosting her first official state visit since being sworn in earlier this month.
The Colombian leader made note of the rain as he arrived, telling Payette that he believed it was a good sign of "water from the heavens" blessing what he described as the "matrimonial relationship" between the two countries.
Flooding in the national capital region forced Trudeau to take back roads aboard an all-terrain vehicle to reach his motorcade for the commute to his Ottawa office from his weekend residence in the nearby Gatineau Hills.
Santos was awarded the peace prize last year for his efforts to end Colombia's half-century-long civil war, but said Canada — along with other nations — was instrumental in maintaining the momentum behind peace talks.
"I came here to ... thank the prime minister and the Canadians for all the help that we have received in this difficult peace process in the last years," Santos said during a photo op with Trudeau.
The president added that he wanted to strengthen economic ties between Canada and Colombia and also thanked Canada for helping to educate people in his country.
The two nations signed a free trade agreement in 2008 and Colombia this month hosted the first round of formal negotiations aimed at reaching a trade deal that would include Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore as associate states in the Pacific Alliance trading bloc.
The Canadian Press