HAVANA (Reuters) - The Colombian armed forces’ aerial bombing campaign against leftist guerrillas killed a member of the rebel negotiating team who had participated in peace talks being held in Cuba, a guerrilla commander said on Wednesday.
Jairo Martinez, a veteran of two separate peace processes, was one of 27 rebels killed last Thursday in Cauca province, in a raid that led rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end a five-month unilateral cease-fire.
Martinez was also involved in peace talks during the government of President Andres Pastrana, who held office from 1998 to 2002. Although he was active in the Havana talks, he was in Colombia on an education mission when he was caught in the attack, FARC leader Pastor Alape told reporters in Havana.
“Jairo Martinez, a member of the FARC peace delegation in Havana, was among the guerrillas who was assassinated,” Alape said.
He then added a message to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos: “Peace talks won’t advance with blood baths, President Santos.”
On Monday the FARC reported the death of senior rebel commander Roman Ruiz, who was killed in a separate government bombing attack in the province of Choco. Those two raids and another on Saturday have killed about 40 guerrillas and prompted the FARC to end a unilateral cease-fire it had announced days before Christmas.
The Santos government and the FARC have conducted peace talks in Havana for the past two and a half years in an attempt to end Latin America’s longest war, which has killed 220,000 and displaced millions since 1964.
Fighting has continued during the talks. The FARC had demanded the government reciprocate after it called its indefinite unilateral cease-fire, but Santos has refused, citing previous peace talks when the rebels exploited the truce to re-arm.
In March, Santos agreed to halt the bombing raids temporarily in recognition of the unilateral cease-fire the FARC had called at Christmas. But he ordered air assaults in response to a rebel ground attack that killed 10 soldiers in Cauca in April.
Peace talks reconvened in Havana last Thursday despite the recent escalation of violence.
Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Dan Grebler