QUITO, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- The Ecuadoran government has formally designated neighboring Colombia's two largest rebel forces as "irregulars," changing an earlier designation as "terrorists," Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador said Tuesday.
"Our nation's position is to consider them as irregulars, not to declare them terrorists," she said of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
The Ecuadoran statement is close to that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who last week called on the world to recognize the two armies as "insurgent forces." In that speech Chavez said, "The FARC and ELN are not terrorist force. They are real armies occupying Colombian territory and they share the Bolivarian project."
Being an insurgent rather than a terrorist grants jailed rebel fighters the right to be treated as prisoners of war rather than criminals, under the Geneva Convention, but would also bar them holding hostages as bargaining chips or for ransom.
In 2002, the European Union added both the FARC and Colombia's paramilitaries to its list of terrorist organizations, formally stating it does not consider either fighting for social ideals.
This ruling bars financial support or recognition for the rebels, who are accused of widespread drug trafficking, kidnap and attacks on civilians.
Salvador said that Ecuador and Colombia continue to have positive dialog, even though Ecuador continues to prosecute Colombia at the International Courts of Justice in The Hague, in a case on Colombia's aerial spraying of herbicide on their shared border.
She also said that Ecuador will not sign a free trade agreement with the United States, but will instead prepare a counter-proposal to reestablish links with that market.
"Ecuador will not go begging to the United States congress for the renewal of Andean trade tariffs. We consider these to be practically a right due to the success of our battle against drugs," Salvador said.