Colombia Peace Talks in Crisis as FARC Ends Ceasefire

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Peace talks to end Colombia's five-decade conflict were plunged into fresh crisis after FARC guerrillas suspended their unilateral ceasefire in response to a government air strike that killed 26 rebels.

Colombia Peace Talks in Crisis as FARC Ends Ceasefire

The December ceasefire announcement by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had raised hopes that the two-year-old peace negotiations were approaching a breakthrough. But tensions have spiralled since the rebels killed 11 soldiers in an ambush last month.

On April 15, the day after the ambush, a furious President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the military to resume air strikes against the leftist FARC, which he had suspended on March 11 in recognition of their ceasefire.

Thursday night's air strike and ground attack was the deadliest assault on the FARC since that announcement.

It targeted a FARC base in the western department of Cauca, the FARC stronghold where the rebels carried out the ambush.

The strike came on the same day the government and FARC opened a new round of peace talks, seeking to make progress on ending a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people.

The FARC, which has defended the April ambush as a "defensive" action taken against an army siege, vehemently condemned the air strike.

The rebel fighters were "murdered in the deep of night and sound asleep, with 250-kilogram (500-pound) bombs, without a chance to fight back," Pastor Alape, a member of the FARC negotiating team, wrote on Twitter, calling it "a treacherous and degrading act."

Soon after, the rebel negotiating team announced on its blog that the FARC was ending its unilateral ceasefire after six months.

"We didn't plan to suspend the ceasefire... but the incoherence of the Santos administration has achieved it, after five months of ground and air offensives against our units across the country," they said.

They said they were still committed to continuing the talks, but reiterated their call for a bilateral ceasefire -- which Santos has repeatedly refused to grant without a final peace deal.

"Against our will we have to pursue dialogue in the midst of confrontation," they said.

"Although Santos has announced he will maintain the offensive, we insist on the need to grant the bilateral ceasefire the national majority has demanded with such insistence, for the health of the peace process and to avoid more victims."

A scheduled meeting Friday between government and rebel negotiators on their landmark agreement to cooperate on clearing the landmines that litter the Colombian countryside was called off, a Cuban foreign ministry official told AFP.

The two sides were expected to go ahead with the next scheduled meeting on Saturday.

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