Colombia defense minister says troop cuts after peace ‘big mistake’

BOGOTA,  (Reuters) – It would be a “big mistake” for Colombia to reduce troop numbers or cut its security budget if a peace agreement is signed with Marxist FARC rebels to end a half century of war, the defense minister said yesterday.

Colombia has struggled through a year of slow-paced talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in an effort to end a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people since it began in 1964. Meanwhile the FARC has stepped up combat pressure.

“It would be a big mistake, because even if the terrorist organization disappears, it doesn’t mean many of its crimes disappear,” Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told Reuters in his Bogota office, ruling out any changes to the armed forces.

More than three dozen FARC commanders participating in peace talks in Havana have called on President Juan Manuel Santos to divert funds away from maintaining Colombia’s 439,000-strong armed forces and use much of the $15 billion in defense spending for social plans, including healthcare and education.

“I personally think Colombia has a security budget that’s very limited,” said Pinzon, highlighting that smaller Latin American nations without the security risks faced by Colombia have similar defense budgets – about 3.5 percent of GDP. “I think we have to keep strengthening.”

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