(Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said a partial agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia almost didn’t happen when the FARC rebel group’s leader balked at the last minute to a six-month deadline to end talks, according to the New York Times.
In an interview with the newspaper published on Saturday, Santos said the rebel leader, Rodrigo Londoño, appeared to reject such a deadline when the two met in Havana this week amid moves to end the Latin American country’s five-decade war.
“That was a difficult moment” Santos said in the interview, conducted on Friday in New York.
Santos also said that thousands of FARC fighters could get amnesty but that the rebel group’s leaders, possibly even Londoño, will be punished somehow.
Under the agreement, rebel leaders and military officers who are punished will be detained in a facility that Santos said would be “an austere installation” but one that is “not a typical jail with black-and-white pajamas.”
On Wednesday, Santos and FARC agreed to create special courts to try former combatants including guerrillas and also vowed to sign a peace deal by March.
The breakthrough between Colombia’s government and Marxist guerrillas has raised hopes for a peace deal within six months even as the thorny issue of extradition to face drug trafficking charges in the United States, which has spent billions of dollars on its anti-drugs efforts in Colombia, remains unresolved.
Rebels, drug traffickers and right-wing paramilitaries have all opposed extradition, which typically means long sentences far from their families and fewer opportunities to bribe officials for perks.
One of the U.S. targets is Londoño, better known as “Timochenko”, who Washington alleges was involved in the manufacture and smuggling of hundreds of tons of cocaine.
Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli