Colombia's FARC rebels say peace deadline not definite

Carlos Antonio Lozada, member of the FARC-EP leftist guerrilla delegation, reads a statement at the start of peace talks with the Colombian government on November 3, 2015 in Havana (AFP Photo/Adalberto Roque)

Havana (AFP) - Colombia's FARC rebels warned Tuesday they may not reach a peace accord with the government by the March 23 deadline the two sides set in September.

Speaking on the sidelines of peace talks in Havana, FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada said negotiators still needed to finalize talks on meting out justice for crimes committed during the five-decade conflict.

"We will have to see when the six-month countdown begins," he said.

"That's a debate we'll have to analyze at the negotiating table when we try to see at what point the justice issue will be definitively settled."

The government delegation did not immediately comment.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleon "Timochenko" Jimenez set the deadline six weeks ago when they met for the signing of a deal on the justice issue, one of the most sensitive topics on the six-point agenda for the peace talks.

At the time, both sides hailed the justice deal as a landmark breakthrough in the nearly three-year-old talks. But they have since squabbled over the details of the final document.

The two sides have so far reached deals on land reform, political participation for ex-rebels and fighting the drug trafficking that has fueled the conflict.

The other unsettled issues on the agenda are disarmament and the ratification of the final accord.

Founded in 1964, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have an estimated 7,000 fighters.

Another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has about 2,500. It has so far not joined the peace process, though it has held preliminary talks with the government.

The Colombian conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and uprooted six million.