Colombian government, FARC rebels miss peace deal deadline

Colombian government says there are still 'important differences' with FARC, but peace negotiations will go on despite self-imposed deadline to reach agreement being overdue

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Members of the Colombian government delegation for the peace talks with Colombian FARC-EP guerrilla, Sergio Jaramillo (L) and Humberto de la Calle (R) speak during a press conference on March 23, 2016 at Convention Palace of Havana.

Colombian government and leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels missed a self-imposed March 23 deadline to reach a comprehensive peace agreement to end more than half a century of conflict in the country, but they pledged to keep trying to solve the issue.

Colombian government said there are still “important differences” with the FARC rebel group.

The two sides unsuccessfully tried to agree on a common statement and produce a roadmap towards peace for hours before the deadline, instead the government and the FARC issued separate communiques.

"To be perfectly frank, we do have to tell the public that at this time, there are still some differences with the FARC on significant issues," said the government's lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle.

De la Calle said the two sides would keep pushing forward, this year, and not necessarily in Havana indefinitely.

"We are going to give it our utmost to get a final deal struck. But that takes timely decision-making. It's what Colombians want … It is what they are demanding," he added.

The lead negotiator for the FARC, Ivan Marquez, said "it was not possible. Because the logical demands of a long and complicated war like that which Colombia has endured made it that way."

Latin America's longest war has killed some 260,000 people and displaced millions of others since 1964.

In a September 23, 2015 meeting hosted in Havana, Cuba, President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez shook hands after agreeing to reach a final peace agreement within six months to put an end to years of deadly conflict.

In this Sept. 23, 2015 file photo, Cuban President Raul Castro, centre, encourages Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, left, and Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, Timoleon Jimenez, to shake hands, in Havana, Cuba.

While they signaled earlier that they failed to close in on a done deal, the parties have reached agreement on most of the points on their agenda.

Still, they have to iron out an agreement on a bilateral, final ceasefire that includes the rebels laying down their arms and a deal on how to ratify any accord they reach.

Negotiators at the talks -- held in the Cuban capital since November 2012 -- had announced several key advances in recent months.

The goal is to turn the FARC from a rebel group into a political party.

Hostilities have almost entirely halted under the FARC's unilateral ceasefire, although a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has not joined the peace process and continues periodic attacks. It has however begun preliminary talks with the government on entering formal peace negotiations.

The ELN freed early on Thursday a 40-year-old civil servant it had taken hostage in September of last year, Santos said on Twitter.

Santos has said the ELN has to free all captives as a condition for starting peace talks.