July 8, 2015 / 1:21 PM / 2 years ago

Colombian rebels say prepared to call unilateral ceasefire

HAVANA/BOGOTA (Reuters) - Leftist Colombian rebels said on Wednesday they are prepared to call a month-long unilateral ceasefire from July 20, a potential boost to peace talks that have been threatened by increased battlefield violence in recent months.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) lead negotiator Ivan Marquez reads from a document during a conference in Havana April 20, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gave no immediate sign he would reciprocate, saying in response that “more is required” and that rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) need to show more urgency in 2-1/2-year-old peace talks.

“With this we seek to generate favorable conditions to advance with our counterparty to work toward a definitive, bilateral cease-fire,” FARC leader Ivan Marquez read in a statement in Havana before going behind closed doors for talks with the Colombian government.

They said they were responding to the Tuesday call by four countries sponsoring the Colombian peace talks for an “urgent de-escalation” of violence and “confidence-building measures” in Latin America’s longest-running civil war.

The FARC has long advocated a bilateral ceasefire, which the government has rejected saying the group has used previous attempts at such truces to rearm. Media speculation in Colombia is running high that Santos may soften his stance on the bilateral ceasefire amid concerns the process is floundering.

Santos has said he would like to reach a peace agreement this year.

“We appreciate the FARC’s gesture of a unilateral ceasefire but more is required, especially concrete commitments to accelerate the negotiations,” Santos said on Twitter.

The new ceasefire may ease a recent wave of violence the FARC and the smaller rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN) have waged nationwide. The police said on Wednesday it had captured 15 people in connection with two small bombings attributed to the ELN in Bogota last week.

The current FARC talks in Havana have produced the most progress to date toward ending the conflict, which has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions since 1964.

In March, Santos agreed to halt air strikes in recognition of a unilateral ceasefire called by FARC at Christmas time.

But talks hit a stumbling block in April when Santos ordered a resumption of air assaults in response to a rebel attack that killed 10 soldiers.

Since then both sides have carried out more attacks, with FARC formally renewing offensive operations and sabotaging roads, pipelines and utilities.

The FARC have called five other unilateral ceasefires during the course of the talks, varying in length from several weeks to five months.

Reporting by Nelson Acosta and Julia Symmes Cobb; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Peter Galloway, Meredith Mazzilli, Helen Murphy and W Simon

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