HAVANA (Reuters) - The Colombian government and leftist rebels will renew peace talks this month, reviving efforts to end five decades of war, officials said on Wednesday.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos had suspended the two-year-old peace talks until the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels released five hostages, including an army general, captured last month.
The guerrillas freed all the captives last week, including General Ruben Dario Alzate, who subsequently resigned.
Government negotiators and FARC leadership met in Havana on Tuesday for two days of talks to evaluate recent events.
“We consider the crisis over and announce that we have agreed that the next cycle of conversations will take place between the 10th and the 17th of December,” a Cuban government official said, reading a joint statement by the two sides and Cuba and Norway, who are guarantor nations at the talks.
Negotiators will start the renewed talks by discussing how to wind down the conflict, which has killed over 200,000, Santos said during an event with Canada’s visiting Governor General.
“I celebrate that at the negotiating table in Havana they have agreed to renew talks,” said the president, who was re-elected in June on a promise to end the war.
“This is how we save lives, how we stop suffering and at last, after 50 years, have peace in our country.”
Alzate, 55, was seized along with a corporal and a civilian lawyer in northwest Choco province on Colombia’s Pacific coast. The rebels declared him a prisoner of war. Santos halted the negotiations until the three, along with two soldiers captured in a separate incident, were freed. The rebels released the two soldiers last week and the other three captives on Sunday.
Alzate resigned a day later, saying that, in an attempt to keep a low profile during a visit to a wind energy project, he ignored important security protocols.
The Havana talks are not the first effort to end the war. Previous negotiations collapsed in 2002 when the rebels kidnapped a senator, who was held hostage for six years.
The FARC, once prolific kidnappers, say they no longer hold captives for ransom but reserve the right to take prisoners of war. They have repeatedly advocated for a bilateral ceasefire during talks, though the government has refused.
Reporting by Nelson Acosta and Monica Garcia; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by G Crosse, Richard Chang and Gunna Dickson