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Colombia chides rebels to stick to peace talks agenda


Colombia's government on Thursday rejected calls by the leftist FARC guerrilla group to demilitarize rural areas in Colombia, saying that and other issues were beyond the scope of ongoing peace talks.

"The government is not going to start negotiating on new topics," peace talks representative Humberto De la Calle told reporters, as the two sides prepared to take an 11-day break.

"I'm referring, for example, to the issue raised by the FARC on 'demilitarizing the rural areas.' This issue is not part of the discussions," said De la Calle as he prepared to return to Bogota.

Other subjects that the rebels have raised, but which the government considers out-of-bounds, De La Calle said, include slapping more taxes on the country's energy and mining sector and renegotiating Colombia's foreign debt.

The Bogota government has been holding talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Cuba since November in a bid to end a conflict that began as a peasant revolt against inequality in the 1960s.

Rural development and land ownership are the first of five agenda items on the itinerary, and De La Calle said negotiations on that critical issue were winding down.

The government negotiator said the talks are "making progress," although there remain "various disagreement to sort out."

"We will come back to the talks on April 2, with the hope of being able finally to finish up that subject (land reform) and move onto the second," he said.

Colombia's leftist FARC rebels this week made a call for policies that would bring about social "justice."

The FARC also proposed "demilitarizing" the Colombian state, and called as well for the payment of "reparations" for Colombian land workers.

The talks are the first attempt in more than a decade to reach a negotiated truce between the Colombian government and the FARC, Latin American's largest insurgency. Three previous attempts failed.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos expressed optimism this week that an accord could be reached by the end of the year.