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UN: Colombians want quick agreement on new peace deal

Colombians don't want the peace process to unravel and would like to see quick agreement on a new peace deal to replace the one rejected by voters, the head of the U.N. political mission in the country said Wednesday.

Jean Arnault said the protocol agreed to by the government and Colombia's largest rebel movement on Oct. 13 in Havana following the referendum's defeat is in the U.N.'s view "a very, very serious commitment" on the separation of forces, "and I would even say to some extent amounts to the end of the conflict."

He told a news conference a day after briefing the U.N. Security Council that there is a very strong and vocal consensus in the country that "there cannot be a return to war."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, is engaged in three-way talks with FARC rebels and the opposition to find ways to adjust the accord so that it enjoys broader support.

But it's an uphill battle.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, who led opposition to the accord, is demanding deep changes such as stiffer penalties for rebels who committed war crimes. The rebels, who would be spared jail time under the accord, are insisting, however, that they won't go back to the drawing board and throw out more than four years of arduous negotiations with the government.

In a surprise move, both the government and FARC rebels asked the Security Council on Jan. 19 to establish a mission to monitor a cease-fire.

Arnault said there is still "a strong consensus" around the U.N.'s role.

"I think the two parties are very clear that the war is over and should be over, but I think there is still in the population at large a sense of uncertainty," he said. "And I think the further deployment of the U.N. mission to observe the cease-fire that was again renegotiated last week is going to be an important factor."