Colombia's FARC rebels to ask government for ceasefire

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 06, 2012 10:56 AM
Colombia's FARC rebels to ask government for ceasefire

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Colombia's leftist FARC rebels said on Thursday they would seek a bilateral ceasefire next month at the start of peace talks with the government aimed at ending half a century of war, and expressed hope that this latest attempt to end the conflict would succeed.

But the proposal could complicate the process from the start because Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said this week there would be no ceasefire during the negotiations.

"We are going to propose a ceasefire immediately when we sit at the table," senior commander Mauricio Jaramillo told a news conference in Havana.

"Better said, we are going to fight for it. We are going to discuss it there in the table, but it is one of the first points," he said.

A decade ago, in the last attempt at ending Latin America's longest-running insurgency, the rebels used a ceasefire to beef up their military operations and establish a multibillion-dollar drug-trafficking network.

"There is no way the government will accept this since it has always sought a unilateral ceasefire on the side of the rebels," said security analyst Alfredo Rangel in Bogota.

"The government will reject this immediately and that will play into the hands of the FARC which wants to continue in combat. The FARC will use violence to pressure the government at the negotiating table," he said.

The rebels said the talks were expected to begin October 8 in Norway. They will then move to Havana, where the Cuban government said on Wednesday it had been brokering the negotiations for more than a year.

Jaramillo said the FARC, which formed in 1964 and operates out of remote locations in Colombia, would send Ivan Marquez and Jose Santrich, both high-ranking leaders, to the talks and would reveal more participants soon.

The rebels said they were pursuing peace because the country needs it and sensed that the government felt the same.

"We think it is very important to develop and preserve this process because it responds to a need, a strong desire of the Colombian people," said FARC member Marco Leon. "We are in a war, we are conscious of the importance of ending the social and armed conflict."

Although the Marxist-led FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, have lost ground in recent years, their attacks affect the country's fast-expanding mining and oil sectors.

"We have always wanted to move forward the processes (of peace. We have always wanted peace," said Jaramillo.

Santos unveiled his negotiating team on Wednesday, saying it would be led by former Vice President Humberto de la Calle.

Despite the conciliatory words, experts say the peace process will be difficult, with many disagreements to overcome.

Even as they prepare for the meetings, on Tuesday the FARC blew up two trucks at a coal mine and Danilo Garcia, a top rebel commander and right hand man to FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, better known as "Timochenko," was killed in a bombing attack by government troops.

The two sides have set up a framework for negotiations that includes discussing the rights of victims, land ownership in rural areas and cocaine trafficking and smuggling.

They will also have to settle on how to integrate some 8,000 fighters into civil society, many of whom have been hiding in the Amazon jungle for decades.

Timochenko said in a video shown at the start of the press conference that there were enemies who opposed the talks, but that the process "must culminate with a new Colombia, just and democratic."

(Editing By Tom Brown and Vicki Allen)