Pope to head to Colombia September 6-11: Vatican

Pope Francis will meet Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos on his visit in September

Pope Francis will travel to Colombia in September, the Vatican said Friday, after the pontiff closely followed peace negotiations between the government and FARC rebels.

The September 6-11 trip will include stops in the capital Bogota as well as Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena, the Church said, adding that a fuller itinerary for the trip will be published shortly.

The visit is at "the invitation of the President of the Republic and the Colombian bishops", a Vatican statement said.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his work toward a peace accord, said during a news conference Friday that the pope was coming as "a messenger of peace and reconciliation".

"The presence of His Holiness on our soil, which we look forward to with great hope and excitement, will help Colombians to continue uniting for a more just, more caring, fairer country, and one at peace," Santos said.

Speaking alongside Santos at the headquarters of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia in Bogota, the Papal Nuncio or Vatican envoy in Colombia, Ettore Balestrero, said the pope's visit will be "a religious visit".

"He has a non-political message" for Colombia focused on family values and unity and against corruption, Balestrero said.

The Argentinian pope has followed Colombia's peace negotiations closely, having brought together Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe at the Vatican in December in an unsuccessful bid to persuade them to overcome their differences over a deal with the rebels.

Uribe spearheaded opposition to the peace deal signed in November after nearly four years of negotiations to end more than a half-century of armed conflict.

The former president and his allies argued the deal granted impunity to rebels guilty of war crimes, giving them seats in Congress rather than sending them to prison.

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, launched its guerrilla war against the Colombian government in 1964, after a peasant uprising that was crushed by the army.

Over the decades, the conflict drew in several leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.

Under the peace deal negotiated by Santos's government, the FARC will transform into a political party and its 5,700 fighters would demobilise over a period of six months.

The group began disarming last week, which UN monitors are overseeing.

Francis's visit will be the third by a serving pope to Colombia. Pope Paul VI visited the country in August 1968 and John Paul II in July 1986.

Vatican officials said the visit to Colombia would last from September 6 to 10 and Francis would be back in Rome on September 11.