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Pope Francis Meets With Colombian Leaders to Push for Peace Deal

This handout picture released by the Vatican press office shows Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos (C) standing as former president Alvaro Uribe shakes hands with the Pope Francis (R) during a meeting, on January 16, 2016 at the Vatican.   -/AFP/Getty
This handout picture released by the Vatican press office shows Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos (C) standing as former president Alvaro Uribe shakes hands with the Pope Francis (R) during a meeting, on January 16, 2016 at the Vatican. -/AFP/Getty Images - / AFP - Getty Images

Pope Francis met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former president and opposition leader Alvaro Uribe in the Vatican on Friday to help build consensus for the country's modified peace deal.

"We need your help," Santos said to Pope Francis in the 20-minute meeting. Pope Francis, an Argentine, has brokered efforts for both Venezuela and Cuba, as well as pushed for diplomatic efforts between Israel and Palestine.

After Colombian voters rejected the peace deal in October, President Santos continued to work toward a permanent solution. In November he signed a modified deal and extended the cease-fire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, to December 31. Santos won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

RELATED: In U.S., Colombians React to Historic 'No' on Peace Accord

But former president Uribe argues that the modified deal does not hold the FARC rebels accountable for their role in displacing millions of Colombians during the war. Uribe said the new deal does not contain the oppositions demands that FARC rebels serve traditional jail sentences.

Image: VATICAN-COLOMBIA-POPE
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and former president Alvaro Uribe (L) listening to the Pope Francis (R) during a meeting, on January 16, 2016 at the Vatican. - / AFP - Getty Images

One issue conservatives had with both the first and modified peace deal is that neither barred the FARC rebels from forming their own political party, another leading factor for why Colombians rejected the deal.

On September 26 Santos and FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez, known as Timochenko, inked a peace deal to end the civil war. Both pushed for an immediate referendum so voters could ratify the accord, but on October 2 Colombians surprised the leaders by voting against the peace deal.

RELATED: Colombia President Will Donate Nobel Peace Prize Money to Victims

Though many Colombians did not vote in the referendum, among those that did, 49.78 percent (6,377,482) voted "yes," and 50.21 percent opted for "no." For Colombians in the U.S., the "no" vote among prevailed by a much larger margin: 62.48 percent against 37.51 percent.

In February, Santos announced that Pope Francis would visit Colombia in late 2016 or early 2017. The Pope promised to visit if the country's government and rebels signed a peace treaty to officially end the 52-year civil war that has killed over 220,000 people.

Reuters' Isla Binnie and Ralph Boulton contributed to this report.

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