Colombian peace talks stall, tension mounts

Reuters

By Nelson Acosta

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Colombian government and left-wing FARC rebels ended a 15th round of peace negotiations on Sunday trading accusation over responsibility for the slow pace of the talks and for the first time failing to issue a joint statement on their progress.

Polls in Colombia show the population is tiring of the talks, which have dragged on for 11 months with only a partial accord on agrarian reform, the first point of a six-point agenda.

The parties currently are negotiating on the rebels' future political participation and still have before them the issues of reparations to war victims, the narcotics trade, ceasing hostilities and implementing the agreement.

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.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who is expected to run for a second term, has staked his legacy on bringing an end to the conflict, and both sides have now floated the idea of a pause in negotiations until the elections are over.

The government issued a statement on Saturday, for the first time a day before the round of negotiations ended, accusing rebel negotiators of deliberately stalling the deliberations by bringing up issues not on the agenda and using the talks for propaganda purposes.

"Since these conversations began it has been the government delegation that has insisted that these talks advance more quickly toward an agreement," the statement, read by lead negotiator and former Colombian Vice President Humberto de la Calle, said.

The government views "with concern" the slow pace of negotiations and has "communicated this to the guerillas and public," it said.

Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) accused the government on Sunday of not taking seriously 100 proposals it had offered on the second point of the agenda, which includes rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition after a peace is signed.

"It makes no sense to try to paint the insurgency as the side of the dialogue that is holding back the pace of the (peace) process," the statement said, threatening to break an agreement not to make the details of negotiations public, calling the agreement "absurd."

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.

"It's not realistic to think we would allow … unilateralism over (such) crucial issues," the statement said.

The FARC, the larger of two guerrilla groups, with some 8,000 troops, repeatedly has stated that an agreement cannot include prison time for any of its leaders.

The war, which has raged for 50 years and is the last major guerilla conflict in Latin America, has killed more than 200,000 Colombians, mostly civilians, displaced millions and weighed down the fourth-largest economy in the region.

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 with the next round set to begin October 23. They are being facilitated by Cuba and Norway and hosted in Havana even as fighting continues in Colombia.

(Additional reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Bill Trott)

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