HAVANA (AP) — Talks on ending Colombia's protracted civil conflict resumed Tuesday with a surprising proposal from the country's largest rebel group: postpone next year's elections.
A top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said a delay would help keep political campaigning from jeopardizing the peace process.
"Let us open a national debate about the urgency and propriety of postponing the electoral calendar for a year," said Ivan Marquez, whose birth name is Luciano Marin Arango and who is head of the guerrilla delegation.
He proposed that the delay affect political offices from mayors up to the presidency; that presidential re-election be disallowed; and that both the electoral changes and whatever peace agreement is reached be submitted to a constituent assembly for ratification.
The leader of President Juan Manuel Santos' delegation to the talks threw cold water on the proposal.
"We should not distract ourselves with proposals that contribute little to clarity, as is happening with the supposed prolongation of elected terms," Humberto de la Calle said, referring to the one-year extension of existing terms that would be required by such a delay. "That doesn't work; a constituent (assembly) doesn't work."
Santos, who has hinted he will seek a second term in the May 2014 vote, also rejected the idea.
"There is not even the most minimal chance I would consider that proposal to extend terms," he told Colombia's Caracol radio from Jerusalem, where he is on an official visit this week. "That is completely ruled out."
Peace talks have been taking place since late last year in the Cuban capital.
They went into recess 2 1/2 weeks ago after the two sides reached a partial agreement on agrarian reform, an underlying cause of the conflict and the first of six points up for discussion.
Negotiations turn now to item No. 2, the incorporation of the guerrillas into Colombian politics.
Formed in the early 1960s, the FARC is the oldest active guerrilla army in the Americas, currently with an estimated 9,000 members.
Associated Press writer Vivian Sequera in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.