April 18, 2015 / 12:47 AM / 4 years ago

Colombia's Santos calls for deadline on FARC peace talks

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday warned that the country’s patience with Marxist FARC rebels is wearing thin and that the peace process to end five decades of war must have a deadline.

Two days after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) broke a unilateral ceasefire, ambushing and killing 11 soldiers in rural Cauca province, Santos pledged to remain at the negotiating table with the rebels but called for a timeline.

“Do not be deaf to Colombians who are shouting for an end to the war, who are losing patience,” Santos said in a televised address.

“We must put deadlines on this process and if (the FARC) want peace they must demonstrate with deeds and not with words.”

The rebels called a ceasefire back in December and demanded the government reciprocate by halting all offensives against the group. Santos refused, but called off bombing raids against FARC encampments just over a month ago.

That changed on Wednesday when he ordered the resumption of air raids against the rebels in response.

The attack on the soldiers, who had been carrying out an anti-drugs operation in southwestern Colombia, prompted calls from the opposition for Santos to suspend the peace talks.

“The easiest thing today would be to say war, war and more war, but I was elected to make peace and as Colombia’s leader that is my mandate,” said the 63-year-old former journalist.

The FARC took up arms in 1964 and at the height of the insurgency it controlled huge areas of land, but it has been weakened over the last decade by a U.S.-backed military offensive. Some 220,000 people have been killed during the conflict.

“My obligation is to convert rage into actions that will end the war,” Santos said.

In Cuba, government and FARC negotiators have focused on five topics - the rebels’ future participation in politics, an end to the illegal drugs trade, agricultural reform, reparations for victims and rebel demobilization.

Although the talks have advanced further than previous efforts, Santos told Reuters last week that FARC commanders have said they will not face justice back in Colombia or serve a single day in jail.

Reporting by Helen Murphy, Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Christian Plumb

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