December 26, 2014 / 12:22 AM / 3 years ago

Colombia's FARC rebels to free kidnapped soldier in peace gesture

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s Marxist FARC rebels will soon free a soldier captured last week during an ambush of a military patrol in which they killed five of his colleagues, according to an online statement Thursday.

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began a pre-announced ceasefire at midnight last Friday, the same day they captured 25-year-old Carlos Becerra Ojeda during the attack on troops patrolling in the southwestern province of Cauca.

“The liberation is another gesture of peace by the FARC and a humanitarian act at the same time, considering that the soldier was lightly wounded during the combat,” said the statement posted on www.pazfarc-ep.org.

The soldier would be handed over at an unspecified time in the coming days to a delegation comprising the International Red Cross and representatives of Cuba and Norway, both guarantors in peace talks between the rebels and Colombia’s government.

In a separate statement on Thursday, the FARC said it would aim for peace in 2015 amid progress in talks launched by President Juan Manuel Santos in late 2012, in the latest of several recent conciliatory statements by the rebels.

The sides have reached partial deals on land reform, the FARC’s future participation in politics and how to end the drug trade. The tricky points of victim compensation and how to bring the armed conflict to an end have yet to be agreed on.

“There should not be any valid argument for prolonging this absurd confrontation,” the statement said, adding that “nobody wants to be the last fatality in a war that is headed towards its end.”

The FARC has called ceasefires each year over Christmas since the peace talks began but made the surprise announcement last week that this year’s ceasefire would be indefinite, only ending if government troops attack.

It also reiterated on Thursday its insistence that an impartial international entity such as the Red Cross or a regional intergovernmental body verify the ceasefire.

The government has said it will not agree to verification of a ceasefire until later in the peace talks and answered vaguely the FARC’s other demand that the army not attack it by repeating that it has a constitutional duty to protect Colombians.

The FARC was formed in 1964, mushrooming out of a peasant movement demanding land reform and has fought successive governments in a mainly rural conflict that has killed more than 220,000 and uprooted millions from their homes.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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