Reuters International

Colombia's lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle speaks to the press in Havana, December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

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By Sarah Marsh

HAVANA (Reuters) - Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels agreed on Thursday on a series of legal mechanisms to ensure any peace deal agreed at negotiations will be constitutionally binding if approved by Colombians in a proposed referendum.

The two sides have been in peace talks in Havana, Cuba, since late 2012 to end Latin America's longest war that has displaced millions and killed hundreds of thousands.

"We have arrived at a deal to give the final deal juridical security and stability," the two sides announced in a joint statement read in Havana, the site of peace talks for the past three years.

A deadline for a final accord was missed in March, but Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Wednesday his government hoped to conclude a peace deal with the FARC rebels "in the very near future".

The government's top negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, reiterated Bogota's position that any deal would be submitted to a referendum. He said the FARC, long wary of a referendum given that many Colombians harbour deeply anti-rebel sentiments, was warming to the idea.

"The head of the FARC delegation opened the door to a popular referendum a few days ago," de la Calle said. "We see this as positive."

Many proponents of a peace deal say the referendum is key because without popular backing, the political opposition might try to stall its implementation in the courts.

De la Calle added that both sides were continuing to work on a deal for a bilateral ceasefire and rebel disarmament.

The Colombian government has been addressing the FARC's concerns about their safety in the even of a disarmament in recent weeks.

Bogota is stepping up its offensive against crime gangs which formed after a 2006 peace accord with right-wing paramilitaries failed to absorb many into society.

In the 1980s hundreds of former FARC soldiers were killed by paramilitary groups when they laid down their weapons to join democratic politics. Fears of a repeat have hardened the guerrillas' resolve not to disarm until they feel sure of their safety.

Colombia's defence minister said last week armed forces will launch air raids on crime gangs involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining.

Government air attacks against the FARC are currently suspended.

(Additional reporting by Julia Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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