Colombian Rebels Put Talks With Government on 'Pause'

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RIO DE JANEIRO -- Colombia's largest rebel group said Friday that it would delay its peace talks with the Colombian government, complicating negotiations to end Latin America's longest-running guerrilla war.

Calling the move a "pause," the announcement by the group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, came a day after Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, proposed legislation to hold a nationwide referendum on any agreements reached in the negotiations. The two sides have been talking to each other in Havana since last November, and Mr. Santos's bill would open the way for a referendum on the outcome during national elections in 2014.

The rebel group said in its statement that it needed to "focus exclusively" on analyzing Mr. Santos's proposal, while also criticizing the Colombian government's economic and social policies at a time when protests by farmers, truckers and coffee growers are roiling parts of the country.

The group's move emphasizes the many challenges in ending the war, which has persisted over five decades. While the FARC has been weakened by military strikes that have killed top commanders, it remains an important threat in parts of Colombia, as illustrated by clashes in July that killed at least 19 soldiers and its recent kidnapping of a former United States Marine, Kevin Scott Sutay.

Still, political analysts in Colombia cautioned that such twists in the peace talks, which have already produced a breakthrough in the form of an agreement to reduce inequality in rural areas, were to be expected. The group did not say that it was ending the negotiations, but merely declaring a pause.

"These crises are normal in peace processes and shouldn't be taken as a great tragedy," said Ariel Ávila, an analyst in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, who studies the FARC. "The FARC is also taking this opportunity to consult with its commanders on the front to go over everything that has happened at the negotiating table."

Responding to the FARC's move, President Santos said Friday that it was "legitimate that they study this, but time passes and the patience of the Colombian people has its limit."

This month, Mr. Santos angered the FARC's leaders by warning in an interview with Reuters that they would end up "in the grave or in prison" if the peace talks failed.

Susan Abad contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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