FARC suspends ceasefire after 26 rebels die in military air attack

Fatalities represent new setback to de-escalation of conflict after killing of 10 soldiers

The bodies of Colombian soldiers are moved in 2014.
The bodies of Colombian soldiers are moved in 2014.J. S. (REUTERS)

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has decided to suspend its five-month-long ceasefire after 26 of its guerrillas were killed in a Colombian air force attack in Guapi, a jungle area in Cauca, in the southwest of the country, on Thursday.

“It was not in our thinking to suspend the decision to call a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire on December 20, 2014 as a humanitarian gesture and to help de-escalate the conflict, but the incoherence of the Santos government has brought it about,” the group said in a short statement read by chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez in Cuba, where peace talks between the rebels and the Colombian government are taking place.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the deaths in an address made from the Casa de Nariño presidential palace on Friday. He also added that the military had recovered an injured minor from the attack site.

The soldiers were reported to be pursuing guerrilla leader Javier “el Chugo,”  who was responsible for an attack on a police station six months ago

“Against our will we have to continue the dialogue in the middle of a confrontation,” the FARC statement read.

The deaths come after Santos gave the go-ahead to resume air attacks a month ago after the guerrilla group broke the ceasefire by killing 10 soldiers who had been sheltering from the rain in a sports center, also in Cauca.

The deaths generated a crisis in the ongoing peace talks, which began in Cuba in November 2012. Colombians headed out on to the streets in protest against the peace process and it became clear that some confidence in the talks had been lost.

This time it is the FARC that is feeling resentment over an attack on its forces. According to official sources quoted by news weekly Semana, the soldiers were pursuing a guerrilla known as Javier el Chugo, second in command of Front 29, a FARC unit involved in drug trafficking and responsible for an attack six months ago on a police station on the island of Gorgona, situated 50 kilometers off Colombia’s Pacific coast, in which one officer died.

It is not yet known whether the guerrilla commander died in the attack.

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“The death of 10 soldiers in combat and also of 26 insurgents who were not able to fight, dismembered with 250-kilo bombs, is painful. Peace is the right way,” wrote FARC chief Pastor Alape, one of the group’s negotiators in Havana, on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Santos defended the attack: “The offensive will be maintained until peace is reached, I hope it is attained as soon as possible,” he wrote on the social network.

One of the rules established since the start of the peace talks was to go on negotiating as the armed conflict continued. But in recent months both parties had been making steps to reduce the intensity of the war, but, for now at least, those efforts seem to be on hold.

The talks in Havana have been entering a crucial stage in which both the government and the rebels are discussing possible amnesty for war criminals on both sides of the conflict and disarmament.

The FARC has been waging a more than 50-year war against the government.


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