Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said on Wednesday that he will only sign a peace deal with Marxist rebels by a March deadline if a satisfactory accord has been reached, and will extend talks if necessary.
The Colombian government has been negotiating an end to 50 years of war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebel group since late 2012. The two sides agreed last year to sign a peace deal by March 23, 2016, and the talks are now in their final stages.
"After all this effort, all this time, if we haven't reached a good deal by the 23rd, I'll propose the setting of another deadline," Santos said in the southwestern city of Pereira. "I will not sign a bad deal to meet a deadline."
The comments mark the first time Santos has acknowledged that the talks are running behind schedule, though other officials and the FARC have previously expressed doubts a peace deal could be inked in time.
Negotiators based in Cuba have reached partial agreements on land reform, guerrilla participation in politics, transitional justice, efforts to find missing persons and remove land mines, and an end to illegal drug trafficking.
With the process apparently entering its final stages the United Nations has promised a monitoring mission and the United States and pledged substantial amounts of funding to help implement the accords.
In recent days there has been rampant speculation that even assuming the final deal is not ready by the deadline, there will still be some kind of major advance announced on that date in Havana within the context of President Barack Obama's visit to the Communist island.
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