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Colombian rebels want U.S. to participate in peace talks

Source: Reuters - Fri, 28 Feb 2014 20:35 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Coffee growers and their families, displaced by the conflict with FARC rebels, travel past a plantation in Serrania de Perija, Cesar province, January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez
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(Adds U.S. State Department comment)

By Rosa Tania Valdés

HAVANA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Colombia's FARC rebels asked for the United States to join its peace talks with the Colombian government, saying on Friday it would speed up the process because Washington was making all the important decisions anyway.

The U.S. State Department said it disagreed with FARC's assessment and was unaware of any effort to join the talks. Colombia did not respond to the request, which it would likely reject on grounds of national sovereignty.

"We are discussing a matter of interest for the United States," Ivan Marquez, head of the FARC's negotiating team in Havana, told reporters before entering the latest round of talks.

"Who is really determining what happens or not here is the U.S. government, so we would like to speak with the government of the United States ... We would reach an understanding much quicker," Marquez said.

For the past 15 months, Cuba has hosted talks aimed at ending a half-century guerrilla conflict, the longest in Latin America, which has claimed some 200,000 lives and displaced millions more. Norway has participated in the talks as a so-called facilitator.

The FARC, which stands for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, criticized a purported encounter between the United States and Colombia in which it said Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon met with the U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. Reuters has not confirmed whether such a meeting took place.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a news briefing that the United States welcomed the peace process but that "we are not a party to these negotiations and not aware of efforts for us to be a party to these negotiations."

Regarding FARC's claims that Washington was making decisions in the peace process, she said, "I would not share that assessment."

The United States has provided Colombia with billions of dollars in military aid to fight the FARC and other armed guerrilla groups, which sought to overthrow the Colombian government and formed alliances with drug traffickers.

For decades, leftist insurgents in Latin America have claimed Washington was directing governments and military strategy in Latin America, a complaint that held more resonance during the Cold War, when the Americans actively participated in military coups and carried outsized clout in making Latin American economies friendly to U.S. business interests.

Since the end of the Cold War and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, however, many analysts have commented that Washington has lost much of its interest in Latin America and even ignored the region.

The FARC also announced on Friday that guerrilla commander Fabian Ramirez, leader of a faction known as the Southern Bloc, has joined the peace talks in a significant sign of rebel unity.

Ramirez's participation was likely to quell speculation of a split within the FARC negotiating team.

The two sides have reached tentative agreement on two of five major topics, on land use and the FARC's political future as an unarmed group. They are progressing toward a third agreement on the issue of drug trafficking. (Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes in Havana and Arshad Mohommed in Washington; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Dan Grebler and Amanda Kwan)

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