Colombia's FARC rebels say talks stalled over truce

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Commander of FARC leftist guerrilla Jose Antonio Lozada (C) answers questions in a press conference at Convention Palace in Havana for the peace talks with the Colombian government, on March 14, 2016

Commander of FARC leftist guerrilla Jose Antonio Lozada (C) answers questions in a press conference at Convention Palace in Havana for the peace talks with the Colombian government, on March 14, 2016 (AFP Photo/Adalberto Roque)

Havana (AFP) - Colombia's FARC rebels said Monday peace talks with the government are stalled over the issue of a bilateral ceasefire, the latest snag in a bid to end five decades of conflict.

Speaking after both sides acknowledged that a March 23 deadline they had set themselves would likely pass without the signing of a final accord, FARC negotiator Carlos Lozada said the talks were stumbling over the details of an eventual truce.

The Marxist guerrillas have been observing a unilateral ceasefire since July. But while the government has stopped bombing FARC positions, it has yet to accede to the rebels' demand for a bilateral ceasefire.

"The talks aren't paralyzed, but the discussion we're having on the definitive bilateral ceasefire has slowed," said Lozada in the Cuban capital Havana, where the two sides have been in talks on ending the half-century conflict for more than three years.

He blamed the Colombian government for the impasse, saying it was trying to force the FARC into "unconditional surrender."

"We're looking for formulas to enable us to save what we'd achieved to continue moving forward," he said.

Negotiators at the talks have announced several key advances in recent months, but a final deal remains elusive.

The goal is to turn the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from a rebel group into a political party and end a grinding, complex conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people and uprooted 6.6 million.

On the ground in Colombia, hostilities have almost entirely halted under the FARC's unilateral ceasefire -- although a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has not joined the peace process and continues periodic attacks.