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Colombia's FARC rebels call pause in peace talks

FARC Commander Pablo Catatumbo (C) reads a document to announce a pause in dialogue with the Colombian government
FARC Commander Pablo Catatumbo (C) reads a document to announce a pause in dialogue with the Colombian government at Convention Palace of Havana, on August 23, 2013.

Colombia's FARC rebels said it was putting peace talks on hold Friday to examine a government proposal that any peace agreement must be put to a national referendum.

President Juan Manuel Santos said in Bogota that the FARC's decision to take time out to study the referendum proposal was "legitimate and valid."

"But time is passing and there are limits to the patience of the Colombian people and we have to continue moving forward," he warned.

On Thursday, Santos had sent legislation to Congress that would require a referendum on any peace agreement reached with the leftist rebels.

"In light of this new circumstance, the FARC's peace delegation has decided to make a pause in the talks to center itself exclusively on the implications of the government proposal," FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo said, reading from a statement.

The government and rebels have been holding peace talks in Havana since November, with the aim of ending Latin America's longest insurgency.

Government and FARC negotiators were to remain in the Cuban capital during the pause in talks.

Former Colombian vice president Humberto de la Calle, the lead negotiator for Bogota, made a quick trip home for personal reasons, but said in a statement: "Dialogue has not broken off."

"We hope the time taken by the FARC to examine this proposal will be brief, so talks can resume shortly," he said.

Santos said that in the event of a peace deal, Colombians should vote on it when the country goes to either legislative elections or presidential elections.

Legislative elections are due in March 2014, and the presidential poll is set for May next year.

Catatumbo did not say how long the pause in the talks would last.

The members of Colombian government delegation in Peace-Talks with FARC in Havana, August 23, 2013
The members of Colombian government delegation in Peace-Talks with FARC guerrilla group (L-R) General Jorge Mora, Also Framed, and General Oscar Naranjo arrive to Convention Palace of Havana, on August 23, 2013.

He noted that the rebels had previously proposed that a peace agreement be ratified by a national constituent assembly to ensure it had popular assent.

But Santos has in the past rejected that approach, and on Friday insisted that a referendum would be a better way to poll the public.

Although both sides have expressed optimism that an agreement can be reached, negotiators so far have dealt only with two of the five topics on the agenda for the talks.

They reached a consensus on the issue of rural development and have been discussing the FARC's political reintegration. Yet to be discussed are the laying down of arms, drug trafficking and reparations for victims of the conflict.

A government commission last month estimated that 220,000 people have lost their lives in the near 50-year-old conflict. Other estimates run as high as 600,000 dead.

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