Colombia declines rebel extradition to U.S. amid FARC peace talks

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the public during an event in Cartagena, Colombia, November 27, 2015, in this handout picture courtesy of the Colombian Presidency. REUTERS/Juan Pablo Bello/Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters (Reuters)

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia has for the first time declined to extradite to the United States a Marxist FARC rebel accused of drug trafficking, as peace negotiations approach a March deadline. The South American country will not turn over Juan Vicente Carvajal, known by his nom de guerre Misael, a fighter with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to a court in New York, according to an executive resolution by President Juan Manuel Santos. The order was signed by Santos in October and made public on Tuesday. It marks the first time a rebel extradition has been refused by Colombia for reasons directly related to the 3-year-old peace talks, which are taking place in Havana, Cuba. The two sides have set a March 23 deadline for the signing of a final accord. Colombia has in the past extradited FARC members for crimes including drug trafficking and kidnapping, among them high-ranking member Simon Trinidad, whose release has been demanded by the guerrilla group. Last week Santos ordered that 30 rebels being held in Colombian jails be released in the coming months in another move interpreted as a gesture meant to show confidence in the peace talks. So far the negotiations have produced partial accords on rural reform, an end to the drug trade and political participation for ex-rebels, as well as sideline agreements on removing land mines and looking for thousands of disappeared people. The government and the rebels still must reach a deal on rebel demobilization and reparations for victims. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Bill Trott)