Colombia rebel chief says peace talks suspension destroyed confidence

By Helen Murphy

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos "destroyed" confidence in the peace process by suspending talks and violated the terms of an agreement that brought the rebels to the negotiating table, FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono said.

Londono, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, said in a statement published on Monday that Santos had "overturned the board game" when he halted talks last week and breached terms that allowed the negotiations to start in 2012.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) captured army General Ruben Dario Alzate and two others on Nov. 16, a move that outraged Santos and prompted him to call off talks until the three are released. The group had taken two soldiers captive the previous week.

While the rebels have agreed to free the hostages, talks may be difficult to restart without "diverse considerations," Londono said in a statement dated Saturday and signed from the mountains of Colombia, without giving details.

"The president, with his suspension, overturned the board game we were playing and destroyed confidence," said Londono, who has made secret trips to Cuba to meet his negotiating team. "Ordering the suspension of the process violates in flagrant form, not only his own rhetoric, but also the terms of the general agreement."

Government and Marxist FARC representatives in Havana are following a general agreement that sets out negotiation rules to end the war that has killed over 200,000 people since it began in 1964.

The five-point agenda was meant to be negotiated without interruptions, said Londono.

The FARC said it will release Alzate along with a lawyer and soldier taken hostage as they left a boat in the poor, crime-ridden coastal region of Choco. Two soldiers seized in eastern Arauca province are expected to be freed on Tuesday.

Alzate is the highest-ranking military hostage ever taken by the FARC.

The suspension of talks is the most serious setback to peace efforts after months of complex discussions resulted in partial accords on three out of the five agenda items.

While the rebels' decision to free the captives may sideswipe critics of the peace process who say they are not serious about ending the war, the FARC has not yet said when Alzate will be freed.

The group has in the past drawn out the release of high-profile captives as media attention keeps it in headlines at home and abroad.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)