BOGOTA — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday a ceasefire with the country’s FARC guerillas has been extended until December 31 but that he hopes to have "a new agreement" for peace before that date.
"I have made the decision to extend the bilateral ceasefire until December 31. Let this be clear: This is not an ultimatum nor a deadline, but I hope that the entire process of obtaining a new agreement will be complete well before then," the president said in a televised address.
The announcement came as Santos held fresh meetings with the opposition and members of the public, seeking a solution to the political fallout caused by voters who rejected the peace accord negotiated between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government.
Santos -- who has staked his legacy on making peace -- had previously said that the army would halt its ceasefire at the end of this month if no solution to the impasse was found by then.
The FARC, which had criticised Santos’ deadline, has also confirmed its willingness to continue negotiations and maintain a bilateral ceasefire.
Santos said he made the decision to extend the ceasefire after a student at one of the meetings told him that "in the army and among the guerrillas there are young people who are aware of what is happening, who hope not to have to return to shooting."
In his address Santos urged Colombians to "achieve forever an end to the violence, the return of the displaced to their homes."
"We can’t lose this opportunity."
The Colombian leader won the Nobel Peace Prize just a few days after voters shot down the historic accord in a referendum that would have ended more than 52 years of conflict.
The prize appeared to encourage the peacemakers.
Since the accord’s rejection, Santos has held marathon talks with political figures including the country’s former president Alvaro Uribe -- who led opposition to the agreement -- as well as religious leaders and victims of the armed conflict.
The government on Thursday also welcomed the leader of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, who urged Colombian leaders to commit to reaching a "prompt and urgent solution" to swiftly implement a peace agreement with the FARC. — AFP