BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos ordered a halt to air raids against FARC rebel camps as the government seeks to cool hostilities with the Marxist group while the two sides hammer out a peace accord to end five decades of war.
Santos’s decision on Saturday came just days after a unilateral ceasefire by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) went into effect, providing a breakthrough in talks threatened by a recent escalation of battlefield violence.
“This will mean fewer deaths, less suffering and fewer victims,” Santos said in the coastal city of Cartagena.
“From today, any bombing raids will only be conducted with the explicit order of the president,” he said.
The two sides have been engaged in peace talks in Cuba for 2-1/2 years in an attempt to end Latin America’s longest war, which has killed some 220,000 people and displaced millions over 50 years.
However, the negotiations have been overshadowed by an increase in fighting this year.
In March, Santos suspended bomb attacks against the FARC but resumed them a month later after the rebels broke their ceasefire and killed 10 soldiers.
Santos has said he would like to reach a peace agreement in 2015, but the five-point agenda remains complicated.
The FARC’s latest unilateral ceasefire - its sixth - began on Monday and runs for a month. Santos has said he will analyze progress in four months to decide if talks will continue.
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.
Santos has emphasized that the military’s de-escalation of the conflict is not tantamount to a government ceasefire, and that the armed forces would respond based on FARC actions.
Reporting by Helen Murphy; Editing by Paul Tait