Colombian president rejects FARC peace negotiation extension

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |   Feb. 22, 2016 at 2:18 PM

BOGOTA, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has rejected an extension to peace talks with the FARC rebel group if an agreement is not reached before the March deadline.

Santos said the FARC must focus to reach the agreement before the March 23 deadline over the remaining negotiation points, including a disarmanent agreement and the peace deal's implementation.

"The time for finishing the negotiations is running out," Santos said. "If that doesn't happen, we, Colombians, will conclude that the FARC was not prepared for peace."

If an agreement between the government and the FARC is signed before the deadline, the agreement's implementation will be decided by the Colombian people through a referendum.

Santos said if the accord is rejected through the referendum, there will be no peace with the FARC. Peace talks between the two began in Havana, Cuba, in November 2012 -- mediated by the Cuban government under President Raul Castro.

In December, senior FARC negotiator Jesus Santrich said a final peace agreement with the Colombian government would not be signed by the deadline -- citing government negotiators "changing the rules of the game."

More than 220,000 people have died and 5 million have been internally displaced due to the Colombian conflict since the FARC's founding in 1964. The militant rebel group, known officially as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has been involved in drug-trafficking, kidnapping and other illicit activity to fund its insurgency campaign.

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