Colombia pledges to de-escalate war with FARC rebels

Government forces will not engage in military action against far-left FARC rebels if they also adhere to a temporary truce, Bogota has announced. An earlier attempt at a ceasefire ended in bloodshed in April.

The Colombian government promised on Sunday to reduce hostilities against the leftist guerilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) if the rebels come through on their promise of a month-long ceasefire to begin on July 20.

Brokered with the help of Cuban and Norwegian diplomats in Havana, the two sides reached a tentative agreement for a unilateral truce.

"The national government will as of July 20 put in place a process of de-escalation of military actions in correspondence with a suspension of military action by the FARC," read the joint statement issued in Havana.

More than 50 years of armed conflict

Bogota and FARC have been engaged in peace talks for more than two years in an attempt to finally end the longest war in South American history. The conflict has killed around 220,000 people and displaced millions over a 50 year period.

The two sides have also pledged to work on a final agreement for an official ceasefire as soon as possible. Cuba and Norway have offered to act guarantors in the talks, with the help of Chile and Venezuela. All four nations have issued urgent warnings about the need for an end to the conflict.

The armed strife in Colombia dates back to 1964, and has involved drug gangs and right-wing paramilitaries as well as the radical leftist FARC.

FARC had been observing a preliminary ceasefire from December of last year, but hostilities broke out again last April, when a group of rebels ambushed a group of Colombian soldiers, killing 11 of them. As each side blamed the other for the outbreak of violence, FARC officially ended the truce in May.

Around 30 rebels have been killed since the end of that ceasefire, and recent polls show the public has become increasingly wary of the effectiveness of peace talks.

es/sms (AFP, Reuters)