October 1, 2015 / 8:34 PM / 2 years ago

Colombia's FARC leader halts rebel combat training

FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, speaks during a news conference in Havana, September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The leader of Colombia’s Marxist FARC rebels ordered a halt to combat training of its fighters on Thursday, a move President Juan Manuel Santos said would help the push toward a complete ceasefire as the two sides negotiate peace.

“Let’s go for peace,” Rodrigo Londono, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), said on Twitter. He said his 8,000-strong fighting force would dedicate its time to political and cultural activities and cease military exercises.

Last week, at a historic meeting in the Cuban capital Havana, the Colombian government and FARC leadership resolved one of the most significant hurdles to peace by agreeing to create special tribunals to try former combatants.

Santos and Londono, a veteran rebel known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, shook hands on the accord, hailed as the final push toward an end to the five-decade conflict.

The center-right Santos welcomed Londono’s announcement as a positive demonstration that the two sides are on the right path.

“We should negotiate as quickly as possible the bilateral ceasefire,” Santos told reporters in New York.

This peace process has gone further than previous attempts to end the war. Partial deals have already been reached on land reform, the FARC’s political participation and ending the illegal drugs trade. The rebels began a unilateral ceasefire in July.

The sides are now in the final phase as they debate ending hostilities that have killed almost half a million people.

Santos recently ordered a halt to air raids against FARC rebel camps but previously bristled at a complete ceasefire until peace is signed. He is now working toward a bilateral ceasefire.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Helen Murphy; Editing by David Gregorio

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