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Colombia, rebels pause peace talks for three weeks


The Colombian government and leftist FARC rebels on Saturday suspended peace talks for three weeks, though their technical teams will continue to work together, according to a statement.

"After a series of meetings during the days of Holy Week, the delegations of the national government and the FARC agreed to resume talks in the third week of April," said a joint statement emailed to AFP in Havana.

The statement said the two sides had earlier agreed to devote the first half of April to working separately on the issue of comprehensive agricultural development, the first of five points on the agenda of the talks.

The negotiations held in Havana since November are aimed at ending the longest-running armed conflict in Latin America, which began as a peasant revolt against severe inequality in the 1960s.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is the oldest and most powerful rebel group in South America, but has suffered a string of military setbacks in recent years.

The FARC has demanded the demilitarization of rural areas, taxes on the country's energy and mining sectors and the renegotiation of its foreign debt, demands the government said last week were beyond the scope of the talks.

But in an indication of progress, the two sides issued a joint statement last week asking the United Nations to organize a popular forum to address the issue of the FARC's transformation into a political party.

The talks are the first attempt in more than a decade to reach a negotiated truce between the Colombian government and the FARC.

Three previous attempts failed, but President Juan Manuel Santos expressed optimism this week that an accord could be reached by the end of the year.