Colombia court decision likely to slow approval of peace laws

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s Constitutional Court has struck down two provisions meant to speed approval of laws on the government’s peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels, which will likely extend congressional debate on the accord.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The decision, announced late on Wednesday, was made after the right-wing Democratic Center party, which opposes the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, sued over parts of a broad peace law already approved by Congress.

The ruling requires more than one round of congressional voting on accord-related laws and will likely draw out debate on pending laws about rural reform and political participation for the FARC, which are opposed by the Democratic Center.

Delays may spark complaints about government slowness from the rebels, who are in special camps handing over their weapons.

However, President Juan Manuel Santos’ coalition has a majority in Congress and the laws still look set to be approved.

The ruling will add “legitimacy” to the laws, Luis Guillermo Guerrero, the head of the court, told journalists on Thursday.

Many laws related to the accord have already been approved, including one to give amnesty to the majority of FARC fighters. The ruling will not affect those laws.

“The implementation of the peace deal and the advances in Congress to support it are not at risk,” Alfonso Prada, the president’s general secretary, said on Thursday.

Prada said he spoke to Santos, who was visiting U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, about the ruling early on Thursday.

“We have confidence that Congress will continue processing the laws to implement the peace accord,” Prada said.

Despite government optimism, the FARC said in a statement later in the day that the ruling put the peace accord in its most difficult position since the start of talks.

“The decision presents the danger of renegotiating the accord in Congress once again and, it must be said, of sparking a sabotage of its legal development, which has been the declared intention of the ultra-right,” the group said.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, Luis Jaime Acosta and Carlos Vargas; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler