Colombia`s Santos replaces defense minister

President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday said his defense minister was being reassigned and replaced, as the government wades through peace talks with leftist rebels.

Bogota: President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday said his defense minister was being reassigned and replaced, as the government wades through peace talks with leftist rebels.

The outgoing minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, who has spent four years in the post, "will be taking over as ambassador in Washington," Santos said during an address.

"The new defense minister will be Luis Carlos Villegas, the current ambassador to the United states," he added.

The president said it should be an easy transition and will be carried out in coming weeks; he did not address his motivation for the change.

Some analysts however, see Pinzon as too closely aligned with army interests and hardline opponents of Colombia`s insurgencies.

Pinzon, an economist who is close to the president and seen as a potential political heir, clashed often with Santos` top priority: ironing out a peace deal with leftist rebels before his term ends in 2018.

His government said last week that the National Liberation Army (ELN) had met in Cuba with members of the main rebel force FARC, with the blessing of Santos, who is hoping it will lead to a second peace process.

Both the ELN and the Marxist FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have been at war with the Colombian government since the mid-1960s.

The strife has left more than 200,000 people dead, and peace talks between the government and FARC have been on and off in Cuba`s capital since November 2012. 

There are about 2,500 fighters in ELN, Colombia`s second largest rebel group after the FARC. Formed in 1964, the FARC has an estimated 8,000 fighters, deployed in rural areas of the country.
 

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