Colombian government, rebels trade barbs as talks recess
HAVANA (Reuters) - The Colombian government and left-wing FARC rebels ended a 14th round of peace negotiations on Thursday saying they had made progress on part of a six-point agenda, even as they accused each other of violating the principles underlying the talks.
A joint statement said the parties "continue advancing in developing and writing up accords ... around the second point of the agenda on political participation," including rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition.
But Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) accused the government of attempting to unilaterally impose conditions on any future peace agreement.
And the government said the talks were going too slowly and chided the rebels for using them as an opportunity to spout irrelevant rhetoric.
At issue for the rebels is a government initiative approved by the Colombian Constitutional Court in August that would allow for the prosecution of FARC leaders and a proposed referendum, currently before lawmakers, that would make any peace deal conditional on a popular vote set to occur during national elections next year.
A statement issued by the rebels said the government could not expect to act as both part of the conflict and then judge responsibility. It proposed a constitutional assembly, not a referendum, to ratify and enact a peace agreement.
"It is urgent to return to respecting the bilateral nature of the talks to inspire confidence and continue forward," the FARC statement said.
The end game of any agreement and compensation to war victims are two of the points on the agenda both parties agreed to negotiate before the talks began 10 months ago.
The Colombian government wants a peace accord by the November start of a national electoral cycle, a deadline both parties and observers now say will not be met and may complicate the talks. That process concludes with a presidential vote in May, 2014.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who is expected to run for a second term, has staked his legacy on bringing an end to the conflict.
The government's lead negotiator, former Vice President Humberto de la Calle, accused the FARC of "excessive rhetoric over the most diverse aspects of the nation's life, that have nothing to do with the agenda."
He said the slow pace of the talks contravened the original agreement to negotiate "in an expedited manner and as quickly as possible," and that he expected a quicker pace at the next round.
The war, which has raged for 50 years and is the last major guerilla conflict in Latin America, has taken the lives of more than 200,000 Colombians, mostly civilians, displaced millions and weighed down the fourth-largest economy in the region.
The FARC, the larger of two guerrilla groups, with some 8,000 troops, has repeatedly stated that an agreement cannot include prison time for any of its leaders.
The government has been working toward negotiations with the second group, the Colombian National Liberation Army, with about 3,000 members.
The talks recess every few weeks, then resume, with the next round set to begin October 3. They are being facilitated by Cuba and Norway and hosted in Havana even as fighting continues in Colombia.
Earlier in the talks the two sides settled on a partial accord on agrarian reform. Along with political participation, they still have before them the issues of reparations to war victims, the narcotics trade, ceasing hostilities and implementing the agreement.
(Additional reporting by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Eric Walsh)
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