Latin America

Santos orders military to suspend bombings of FARC bases for a month

Colombian leader offers gesture after rebels announce they will clear minefields

President Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the nation on Tuesday.
President Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the nation on Tuesday.César Carrión (AFP)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered the military to temporarily suspend air raids on camps run by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as peace talks with the rebels in Havana continue.

The Colombian leader said he would stop the bombings for one month but would resume them immediately if the FARC attacked any community in the country.

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After that period, Santos said he would review the situation to determine if the FARC was still complying with the unilateral and permanent ceasefire it declared in December.

“We must recognize that they have been complying with it; military commanders, police, governors and mayors throughout the country have told me this,” Santos said in a televised speech on Tuesday.

The president’s order does not cover the country’s second-largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), which until now has rejected the government’s offer to hold peace talks.

Santos, in fact, has ordered more military offenses against the ELN, which is estimated to have about 1,500 members.

“Instead of synchronizing in tune with the deescalation of the conflict and joining the peace process, it continues to wage war and has increased its criminal activities,” he said.

It was immediately unclear how the suspension of air raids would work in areas where both the FARC and ELN operate.

Santos ordered more military offenses against the ELN, which is estimated to have about 1,500 members

Santos wants to give Colombians a clear signal that the government’s more than 50-year-old war with the FARC – the oldest insurgency in Latin America – has deescalated. He reminded Colombia that he has taken important steps in the negotiations toward winning a final peace treaty with the rebels.

First came the indefinite ceasefire declared by the guerrillas on December 20 and their announcement not to recruit any more members under the age of 17.

On Saturday, the FARC pledged to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance from battlefields where there is a major risk of injury to people.

The Colombian president praised the deal, which was reached between government and rebel negotiators in Havana. FARC leaders have agreed to give the Colombian government coordinates and maps of where they have placed explosive devices.

“Anti-personnel landmines have been a heartache and embarrassment for Colombia that we are going to eliminate,” the president said.

The FARC announced that it would clear landmines and unexploded ordnance from battlefields

Santos also announced the creation of a special commission whose members will meet with different sectors of society, including the opposition, to come up with suggestions for tackling the thorny issues that will be addressed during the final stage of the peace negotiations.

Discussions in the next round of talks will center on how to administer justice to both guerrillas and military officers charged with committing abuses, and disarmament.

Commission members include former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus, who unsuccessfully ran against Santos in 2010; Clara López, another former presidential candidate who represented the left, and ex-president Andrés Pastrana, who has been critical of the government’s negotiations with the rebels.

The FARC has been holding talks with the Santos government since November 2012. Last year, Santos was elected to a second four-year term on the pledge he would continue to negotiate.

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