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Santos will meet Uribe and Pastrana to talk FARC peace

Juan Manuel Santos will meet presidential predecessors to discuss peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The ceasefire has been extended after a peace deal was rejected Sunday by 50.2 percent of voters.

Juan Manuel Santos will meet presidential predecessors Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana to discuss peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  Uribe had condemned a proposed truce as too lenient - throwing the process into disarray and giving the former president a major victory in Sunday's referendum.

Santos tweeted that he invited his predecessors "to dialogue ... in a constructive spirit."

In Sunday's referendum, just over 50.2 percent of voters rejected the government's hard-fought peace deal with FARC. The result contradicted opinion polls and shocked Santos, who has staked his legacy on the peace process.

'No plan B'

With both sides now scrambling to find a solution, Santos announced on Tuesday that the ceasefire deal will be extended until October 31. "I hope by then we can finalize the agreement an end the conflict," he said. However, Wednesday's talks between Santos, Uribe and Pastrana will determine whether the current peace accord can still be rescued. 

Santos has a complicated history with former President Uribe, who has staked his own legacy on his fight against FARC. The current executive had served as Uribe's defense minister from 2006 to 2009, leading a major army offensive against the nominally Marxist rebels. Uribe had campaigned for Santos in his 2010 election campaign.

The president shifted gears after succeeding Uribe and opened peace talks with FARC, which led his former boss to brand him a traitor. Uribe and his right-wing allies have also claimed that the peace deal would grant the rebels lenient sentences with no jail time for crimes committed during the conflict and allow them to relaunch as a political party. Government soldiers would have received similar leniency.

The erstwhile allies are thought to have last met in early 2011, after Santos had already initiated peace talks with FARC in secret. Santos repeatedly offered to meet his right-wing predecessor after formal talks with the rebels opened in Cuba in November 2012, but no sit-down materialized.

The government and right-wing paramilitaries have battled FARC for half a century in a conflict that has left more than 218,000 people dead, over 45,000 missing and about 5 million displaced. Pastrana, who was president from 1998 to 2002, also opposed the peace deal, though his Conservative Party had campaigned for a "yes" vote in the referendum. The truce had also been supported by right-wing leaders in the United States.

"The thing is, just as the government has its deal breakers, so does the FARC; so we have to see if it is willing to reopen the accord," Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said. "There was no plan B: We believed the nation wanted peace."

On Tuesday, the government's lead negotiators, Humberto de la Calle and Sergio Jaramillo, returned to a Havana convention center to meet their FARC counterparts and discuss the results. Even "no" voters say they want an end to war, and the government and FARC have kept their ceasefire.

mkg/bw (EFE, Reuters, AFP, AP)

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