FARC rebels shy from Colombia peace deadline

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Havana (AFP)

Colombian guerrilla group FARC threw new doubt Wednesday on the possibility of meeting the March 23 deadline that it and the government have set to sign a peace deal.

The leftist rebel group's chief negotiator, Ivan Marquez, said it would be feasible to announce the end of the half-century conflict "at the end of 2016," pointedly avoiding any mention of the approaching deadline the two sides announced in September.

"We are fully willing to agree to a timeline and a road map," he said, but accused the government of jeopardizing recent progress by acting "unilaterally."

Government negotiators did not immediately react to Marquez's statement, read out as the two sides resumed their more than three-year-old talks in the Cuban capital Havana.

The Marxist guerrillas and President Juan Manuel Santos's government have cemented a series of partial deals at the talks, but divisive issues remain on the path to a final accord.

They have yet to agree on how to disarm rebel fighters and whether an eventual peace deal should be put to a referendum, as Santos wants, or adopted via a constitutional assembly, as the FARC demands.

Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez announced the March peace deadline with great fanfare on September 23 as they met for the signing of a landmark deal on post-conflict justice.

The FARC, which was launched in 1964 in the aftermath of a peasant uprising, today has an estimated 7,000 members.

Negotiators are seeking to turn it from a rebel group to a political party and end a messy conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people.