Colombia's agriculture minister resigns -ministry sources

by Reuters
Saturday, 11 May 2013 02:23 GMT

BOGOTA, May 10 (Reuters) - Colombian Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo, who helped bring an end to paralyzing strikes by coffee growers and aided negotiators seeking a peace accord with Marxist rebels, has resigned, two sources from the ministry said on Friday.

Restrepo, 66, has been heavily involved behind the scenes in government talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that aim to bring an end to five decades of war.

He told President Juan Manuel Santos more than a month ago that he would remain in office until a replacement was named, one source said. Local radio Caracol said Restrepo confirmed he would stay at his post until an agreement was reached with the FARC on land reform, the first and thorniest item on a five-point agenda.

No official statement has been issued on his resignation.

It was not immediately clear if Restrepo's resignation coincided with the May deadline for those seeking to run in presidential elections next year. There has been media speculation that he would seek the Conservative Party candidacy.

A former finance minister and senator, Restrepo led negotiations in late February that ended a two-week strike by coffee farmers who blocked roads and stalled domestic sales in the world's top producer of high-quality Arabica beans. Cacao growers joined the strike.

He helped clinch agreement with potato farmers earlier this week after a demonstration over prices.

Protests, strikes and bombings across Colombia's commodities sectors have dampened economic growth and hurt Santos' popularity, at a time when he is trying to end a war with the FARC and mulls a re-election bid in 2014. (Reporting by Helen Murphy, Luis Jaime Acosta and Carlos Vargas; Editing by Paul Simao)

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