BOGOTA/HAVANA (Reuters) - Colombia has for the first time declined to extradite to the United States a leftist FARC rebel accused of drug trafficking in a goodwill gesture as part of peace negotiations that are approaching a March deadline.
The South American country will not turn over Juan Vicente Carvajal, known by his nom de guerre Misael, a fighter with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), according to an executive resolution by President Juan Manuel Santos. He was wanted by a court in New York.
The order was signed by Santos in October and made public on Tuesday. It marks the first time a rebel extradition has been refused by Colombia for reasons directly related to the three-year-old peace talks taking place in Cuba.
Colombia has in the past extradited FARC members for crimes including drug trafficking and kidnapping, among them high-ranking member Simon Trinidad, whose release has been demanded by the guerrilla group.
The two sides have set a March 23 deadline for reaching a final accord that would end Latin America’s longest war, which has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions since 1964.
Some FARC units have formed an alliance with drug cartels and a number of rebels taking part in peace talks appear on the U.S. Kingpin List of accused major drug traffickers.
The government has said a final peace deal would likely protect former rebels from extradition to the United States, and the two sides agreed in September to provide amnesty or reduced sentences for former combatants.
Those provisions have generated controversy in Colombia, where critics led by former president Alvaro Uribe mistrust the peace talks or want harsher punishments for their enemies.
Last week Santos ordered the release in the coming months of 30 rebels being held in Colombian jails in another move interpreted as meant to show confidence in the peace talks.
In talks in Havana on Tuesday, the government rejected a FARC proposal to establish their own special political and economic zones that would be off limits to the army in the event a peace deal is reached.
“We aren’t in this process to divide the country, nor to hand over ungovernable territories. Our constitution will not be replaced at the (negotiating) table,” Jorge Enrique Mora, a retired general and member of the government negotiating team, said in a statement.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota and Jaime Hamre in Havana; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Toni Reinhold