Colombian president opens door to popular vote on FARC peace deal

Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:13pm EST
 
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By Helen Murphy

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday opened the door to a popular vote on any peace accord negotiated and signed with FARC rebels, but rejected a guerrilla demand to change the constitution if a deal is clinched.

Talks to bring an end to Latin America's longest-running insurgency began in Cuba in November, when the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, sat down for the first round of talks.

Ivan Marquez, head of the Marxist FARC negotiating team, has called for a national assembly to change Colombia's constitution and ensure any agreements would be set in stone.

The drug-funded group, which has fought a dozen governments during a half-century conflict that killed tens of thousands, reiterated their demand on Tuesday. But Santos rejected the idea.

"It's very possible that we could find a way to seek popular approval for any accord," Santos said during an address in the Norte de Santander province. "That's still to be discussed. But I want it to be very clear that we will not end these agreements with a national assembly."

Santos has ruled out discussing major changes to Colombia's economic or political model, saying that if the guerrillas want to modify the system, they should run for election.

More than 20 years ago Colombia held a nationwide assembly to rewrite the 1886 constitution. Demobilized rebels from smaller groups participated, but not the FARC or the National Liberation Army, another left-wing group.

CEASEFIRE TO BE LIFTED   Continued...

 
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gives a speech during a promotion ceremony at a police school in Bogota December 7, 2012. REUTERS/John Vizcaino