by Staff Writers
Bogota,Colombia (AFP) Aug 22, 2013
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday he would put any peace agreement reached with leftist FARC rebels to a national referendum.
Santos said he was introducing legislation that would stipulate that the referendum be held at the same time as parliamentary or presidential elections scheduled for next year.
The government has been in peace talks with the FARC, the country's largest guerrilla group, since November, and Santos has expressed hope an agreement will be reached before the end of his term next year.
"The peace process advances, and we have the responsibility, the obligation to anticipate whatever may be necessary if an agreement is formalized, so that the people have the last word," Santos said.
The president did not rule out the possibility that a deal would not be struck by the time elections are held. Legislative elections are due in March 2014, and the presidential poll is set for May next year.
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC aimed at putting an end to a decades-long insurgency have been under way in Cuba since November.
A government commission last month estimated that 220,000 people have lost their lives in Latin America's oldest armed conflict. Other estimates rise as high as 600,000.
The peace talks in Havana have yet to take up the issue of reparations for the victims. Other pending agenda issues are the laying down of arms and drug trafficking.
The two sides currently are discussing the question of the FARC's participation in politics. In May, negotiators reached a consensus on the complex issue of land holdings.
The FARC, which are believed to have about 8,000 fighters, have repeatedly asked that presidential elections be postponed for a year or two, to leave time for a peace deal to take hold.
But Santos, who is expected to run for re-election, has ruled out any delay, setting a year-end deadline for an agreement to be reached.
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