Colombia's FARC rebels reject setting disarmament date

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and the head of the FARC guerrilla Timoleon Jimenez (R), shake hands as Cuban President Raul Castro (C) holds their hands during a meeting in Havana on September 23, 2015 (AFP Photo/Luis Acosta)

Havana (AFP) - The leader of Colombia's FARC rebels on Friday rejected President Juan Manuel Santos's demand to set a date to disarm, showing that tensions are still marring the peace process.

Santos last month called on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to set a "precise and clear" date to put down their weapons, after the two sides missed a self-imposed March 23 deadline to deliver a final peace accord.

But FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez said disarmament involved "complex issues" and could not be rushed.

He specifically mentioned the right-wing paramilitary groups that fought the leftist guerrillas for decades and waged a scorched-earth campaign to choke them from the Colombian countryside.

Though they have been officially disbanded, the FARC says these death squads still exist and will come after former rebels if they disarm.

"We're not fools, nor suicidal," Jimenez wrote in an article on the FARC's website.

"You cannot demand that one side put down its weapons and reintegrate into civilian life while the other side does not keep its corresponding promises."

The government disbanded Colombia's paramilitary groups a decade ago, but in many cases their remnants have transformed into drug gangs in the world's largest cocaine-producing country.

The half-century conflict in Colombia has killed more than 260,000 people.

After more than three years of peace talks in the Cuban capital Havana, the government and FARC say they are close to signing a deal.

Hostilities on the ground have fallen dramatically, with the FARC observing a unilateral ceasefire since July.

But a number of thorny issues still stand in the way of a final accord.

So far, the two sides have reached deals on four of their six agenda items: justice for victims, land reform, a political role for ex-rebels and fighting the drug trafficking that fuels the conflict.

The unresolved issues are disarmament and how to ratify the final accord.