The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group on Thursday welcomed a pledge by President Juan Manuel Santos to abolish mandatory military service if he is re-elected to a second term, and a peace deal is reached with the rebels.
“It’s a very attractive offer, very important,” FARC spokesman Ricardo Tellez said in Havana, Cuba, where the government and the rebels are holding peace talks. “We hope it’s not just an election promise.”
The Colombian president said Wednesday that if he is re-elected in a June 15 runoff and the peace talks lead to a successful disarmament, he will submit a bill to congress of the country to abolish military conscription as a way to mark the end of the five- decade-old conflict between the armed forces and the leftist rebels.
“What Santos proposed is positive for the future of the nation, ” said Tellez, noting Colombia is not threatened by neighboring countries and is not in imminent danger of a confrontation, and would have little need for a robust army.
Santos lost a first-round vote to his more conservative rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a protege of former hardline president Alvaro Uribe, who has steadfastly opposed negotiating with the rebels in favor of a strictly military strategy. Losing the runoff could spell the end of the peace process.
The peace talks began in November 2012, and have so far led to agreements in three key areas, including agrarian reform, political participation.
The conflict has killed some 220,000 people and displaced 4.5 million.