PARIS (Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Tuesday he was confident that differences with leftist FARC rebels over reaching a peace deal can be overcome by a March deadline although talks remain tough.
Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Santos’ government are negotiating an end to Latin America’s longest war, which has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions over the past half a century.
They recently set a deadline of March 23 to reach a final deal as they wrestle with a five-point agenda that includes political participation of rebels, land rights, drug trafficking and transitional justice.
“We are getting closer and closer, but nothing is guaranteed until we sign,” Santos told Reuters on the sidelines of climate change talks in Paris.
Santos said the two sides still had to finalize justice and victim issues before pressing ahead with disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR).
“It will be difficult, but I think we can manage a deal and I hope we can sign an agreement in the next few months.”
Santos is backing a proposed law under debate in the Andean country’s Congress to set up a plebiscite to give the voters final approval of the peace plan.
The FARC, which has advocated a national constituent assembly, on Nov. 9 rejected the measure before Congress insisting that both sides should determine at the peace table the rules for how the vote should take place.
“The plebiscite is the only way I can comply with the promise I made to the Colombian people that they will have the last word,” said Santos, who has previously indicated the vote would take a few months after a deal.
Within the framework of a climate change deal, Santos launched a $600 million fund as part of a five-year $1.9 billion wider government program to develop areas rich in biodiversity and resources that were especially affected by years of conflict.
“Many peace processes fail because they are not planned for the post-conflict so we are planning to implement the post-conflict as soon as possible,” Santos said.
Almost 60 percent of all deforestation in Colombia has taken place in municipalities with the highest level of conflicts, of which almost 90 percent are in rural areas, according to government figures.
“There is a social and economic benefit. Poverty in Colombia is in rural areas and because of the conflict we have not been able to develop those areas,” Santos said.
He referred to deforestation as a result of the drug trade, illegal mining and substitution of illegal crops to legal crops as areas the government hoped to address quickly.
“This fund will focus on territories where we have had conflict and because of that where inequality is concentrated and where we have the biggest environmental problems.”
Conservative estimates predict a 1 to 1.5 percent boost in growth per year as a result of an eventual accord, Santos told delegates at the fund’s launch event. Other studies show growth of up to 4 percent in certain regions hardest hit by violence.
Editing by Andrew Callus and Richard Balmforth