November 16, 2014 / 3:55 PM / 5 years ago

Colombian president says peace talks at risk unless deal reached in 2015

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s peace process with Marxist rebels risks sliding backwards unless an agreement can be reached next year to end 50 years of war, President Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview published on Sunday.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The government has been negotiating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for the past two years to resolve the conflict, which has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions.

“The coming year should be the year of peace because, if it’s not, it seems to me that from there it would be difficult to continue this process indefinitely,” Santos, who is just over 100 days into his second term, told El Tiempo newspaper.

“I don’t want to give a deadline,” the president added. “We are in a crucial moment and if we don’t go forward, we will start to go back.”

When the talks began in 2012, Santos said the process would be a matter of months, not years. Later the president said that peace would be signed this year.

Negotiators have so far reached partial agreements on three of the five agenda points: political participation for the FARC, an end to the illegal drugs trade, and land reform.

Agreements on justice and reparations for victims and the demobilization of the FARC, which analysts say will be the most difficult points, are still being negotiated.

The talks, held in Havana, Cuba, are derided by Colombia’s political opposition as a chance for rebels to be granted impunity for murders, kidnappings, child recruitment and forced displacement, a charge Santos denies.

FARC leaders have said they will not agree to serve jail terms, which riles many Colombians.

“The time has come to make difficult decisions, what will be transitional justice, how will we apply it,” said Santos.

“It’s not impunity, it’s justice,” the president said, adding that this point was the most complicated on the agenda, “We will apply a justice that will allow us peace.”

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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