Colombia’s military is bracing for a wave of renewed attacks after the country’s largest guerrilla group lifted a 5-month unilateral ceasefire after suffering a devastating military ambush.
On Friday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced that they were resuming offensive actions after the Colombian military killed at least 26 of their fighters on Thursday.
The announcement comes as FARC and government negotiators have been meeting in Cuba for more than two years to try to find a negotiated end to the country’s 50-year civil conflict. The administration has insisted on keeping up military pressure as talks progress.
“Misters of the FARC, it’s time to pick up the pace of negotiations,” President Juan Manuel Santos said. “How many more dead do we need to understand that the hour of peace has arrived?”
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In a communique signed from “The Colombian Jungle” the guerrilla high command said the attack on an encampment of the 29th Front of the FARC, near the town of Guapi, in southwestern Colombia, made their ceasefire untenable. But they also renewed calls for a bilateral cessation of hostility.
“For us, the deaths of guerrilla combatants and soldiers are equally painful,” the group said. “They are children of the same nation and from poor families. We must stop this bleeding.”
The FARC ceasefire — although intermittent and unilateral — had helped save lives, analysts said. Just as importantly, it seemed to be proof that the talks in Cuba were having an impact in rural Colombia.
The Conflict Analysis Resource Center, based in Bogotá, said the ceasefire had been clearly broken by the FARC 21 times since it was instated. Even so, the first five months of this year were some of the most peaceful on record, said researcher David Correal. Compared to historical averages, armed actions were down 85 percent and civilian casualties were down 73 percent, he said.
“I think we are going to see an increase of violence from both sides now,” he added.
On Friday, Santos praised the armed forces and said the country should steel itself for retaliatory strikes.
“Of course, we’re ready for it,” Santos said. But he also said the attack was justified. Along with the 26 casualties, soldiers rescued an underage guerrilla, 37 rifles and an M-60 machine gun, he said.
The actions end a run of positive news for the talks. Shortly after the FARC instated the ceasefire Dec. 20, the government halted aerial bombing and both sides agreed to work together to identify and clear minefields.
The mood of cooperation was shattered in April, however, when the FARC raided a military camp, killing 10 soldiers. The government accused the guerrillas of violating their own ceasefire but the FARC said the measure had been defensive. Even so, the government resumed bombing.
Despite the threat of increased violence in coming days, the peace process itself is likely insulated, said Correal. The talks survived the April killing of the soldiers and the kidnapping of a general last year, he said.
‘We’ve gone through other crises before in the peace process,” he said, “but nothing has broken it.”