Colombia's FARC rebels hope World Cup fosters 'reconciliation'

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels hope the thrills of the national team's participation in the World Cup soccer tournament will help foster a spirit of reconciliation in the Andean country where the group has waged a five-decade-long insurgency.

"We all have the dream that football, on the path of respect and tolerance, can at this time offer us a moment of rejoicing and entertainment that cools consciences and helps find the path of reconciliation in a better way," the FARC leadership said in a letter of goodwill to national team coach Jose Pekerman.

Colombia play Greece on Saturday at 1600 GMT in Brazil's southeastern city of Belo Horizonte, their first appearance in the World Cup since 1998 with high hopes for a strong performance even without injured striker Radamel Falcao.

Political analysts say the euphoria in Colombia if the team wins on Saturday could benefit President Juan Manuel Santos in the presidential election the next day. He is running for a second term and is neck-and-neck against opposition challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in the soccer-mad South American nation.

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which mushroomed out of a peasant movement seeking land reform, has been in peace talks with the government since 2012 in a bid to end a war in which around 220,000 have been killed.

(Reporting by Peter Murphy, editing by G Crosse)