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After deadly attack, Colombia's president wants rebels to set deadline for reaching peace deal

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BOGOTA, Colombia — President Juan Manual Santos delivered a sharp rebuke to Colombia's largest rebel group Friday, calling on its leaders to set a deadline to reach a peace deal following this week's slaughter of 11 soldiers while they were sleeping.

Santos didn't propose any cutoff date to conclude peace talks taking place the last two years in Cuba between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. But he warned the guerrillas that the country's patience is wearing thin

"Don't be deaf to us Colombians who are clamoring that the time to end the war has come," he said in remarks at a reception for visiting South Korean President Park Geun-hye. "Time limits to negotiations need to be put in place," he added.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of outraged Colombians poured into the streets of several cities to join funeral processions for the 11 soldiers, the majority from poor backgrounds, who were killed Tuesday during a midnight FARC attack in a rural hamlet in southwestern Colombia.

Santos, accompanied by members of his Cabinet, served as a pallbearer for one of the fallen soldiers at a memorial service in Bogota, the victim's casket draped in the Colombian flag.

The attack came as a shock to normally battle-hardened Colombians because it occurred after months of steady progress in negotiations that saw the FARC declare a unilateral cease-fire and the government respond with a suspension of air raids on rebel camps.

Following the attack, Santos ordered the air strikes to resume. But conservative critics, and some members of the military, want him to go even further.

While Santos said he shares Colombians' outrage over the attack, he gave no indication he is considering ending talks, saying he was elected to pursue peace not perpetuate war.

"The easiest decision today is to say war, war and more war," said Santos, who as defense minister in the previous government of President Alvaro Uribe was responsible for delivering the rebels some of the biggest setbacks. "But I was elected by Colombians to make peace and that is my mandate."

The FARC's leadership in Havana is also making an effort to overcome the latest crisis, saying talks should continue at all costs. The group also blames Santos for not committing to a two-sided truce ahead of a peace accord, which it says is the only way to prevent further bloodshed.

Bernard Aronson, who President Barack Obama named his special envoy to the peace process in February, said the attack puts the future of the talks at risk. In an interview from Washington with RCN television, he said the tragedy should serve to pressure the rebels to hasten the end of the conflict.


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PHOTO: Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the media after a welcoming ceremony for South Korea's President Park Geun-hye at the presidential palace in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, April 17, 2015. In a sharply worded rebuke, Santos said Colombians' patience is wearing thin after guerrillas this week attacked an army platoon sleeping in the field and killed 11 soldiers.  (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the media after a welcoming ceremony for South Korea's President Park Geun-hye at the presidential palace in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, April 17, 2015. In a sharply worded rebuke, Santos said Colombians' patience is wearing thin after guerrillas this week attacked an army platoon sleeping in the field and killed 11 soldiers. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

 

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