Colombian rebels call truce as peace talks start

Mon Nov 19, 2012 5:23pm EST
 

By Jeff Franks and Helen Murphy and Jack Kimball

HAVANA/BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's Marxist rebels called a two-month unilateral ceasefire on Monday, the first truce in more than a decade, as delicate peace talks began in Cuba to try to end a half century of war.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' government reiterated, however, that there would be no halt to military operations until a final peace deal is signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.

The rebel group said it would halt all offensive military operations and acts of sabotage against infrastructure beginning at midnight on Monday and running through January 20.

"This decision by the FARC is a decisive contribution to strengthen the climate of understanding needed so the parties ... can achieve the purpose desired by all Colombians," lead rebel negotiator Ivan Marquez said, standing outside a convention center for the start of talks in Havana.

The gesture is a sign that the rebels may be keen to push talks to a successful end - something that was thrown into doubt by long, drawn-out speeches by its leadership calling for major changes to Colombia's political system.

The warring sides arrived at the talks in black luxury cars and will meet almost daily until negotiations end.

A crush of journalists surrounded the bearded, bespectacled Marquez who stood with other FARC delegates, including Dutch national Tanja Nijmeijer in Havana's plushest neighborhood.

Some FARC members wore caps and T-shirts of Simon Trinidad, an official guerrilla negotiator who is in prison in the United States. Others shouted "Long Live the Army of the People."   Continued...

 
Colombia's lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle (C) walks next to security advisor Sergio Jaramillo (L) as they arrive to talks in Havana November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa