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BOGOTA, Colombia – Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe lashed out Thursday at what he considers a double standard by the international community for applauding a recent breakthrough in peace talks with leftist rebels that he says puts the country on a path toward more violence and impunity.
Uribe told The Associated Press that it's incoherent for the U.S. and Europe to demand jail time for terrorists from Spanish separatist group ETA, the Irish Republican Army or al-Qaida but expect Colombia to demonstrate leniency with guerrillas he says are behind scores of atrocities during the country's long-running conflict.
"I'm more worried about what Colombians think than the international community because we are the ones who are going to have to live with the consequences of what's happening," said the hardline former president.
His remarks came after President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced last week an agreement on the thorny issue of punishment for war crimes, a breakthrough in the three-year-old talks that paves the way for a final deal to be inked within six months. Under the agreement rebels that confess abuses to special peace tribunals, compensate victims and promise not to take up arms again will receive a maximum 8 years of labor under unspecified conditions but not prisons. War crimes committed by Colombia's military will also be judged by the tribunals and combatants caught lying will face penalties of up to 20 years in jail.
Uribe left office in 2010 with an 80 percent approval rating after having driven the FARC from major cities, leading to a major reduction in kidnapping and murders. Now a senator for his fledgling Democratic Center party, the 63-year-old remains one of the country's most-powerful politicians, with an approval rating in August, before the recent breakthrough, almost double that of Santos, his former defense minister turned arch enemy.
But as the peace talks have advanced, he's found himself more isolated politically, with former allies in the U.S. privately criticizing his obstinacy and observers such as the United Nations and International Criminal Court expressing optimism in the peace talks taking place in Havana, Cuba.
Uribe said that while he's not opposed to a peace deal, rebel leaders need to pay for their crimes in a more meaningful way. He said he'll follow his convictions regardless of whatever international help he receives.
"We'll fight with or without support. We're used to undertaking these fights alone."
AP Writer Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.
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