Farc calls truce as peace talks start in Cuba

November 20, 2012 - 4:04:24 am

HAVANA: Colombia’s Farc rebels said yesterday they would call a two-month unilateral ceasefire, the first truce in more than a decade, as peace negotiators met in Cuba in the latest attempt to end the five-decade war.

President Juan Manuel Santos’ government, however, has so far rejected any stoppage of military operations until a final peace deal was signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, and even vowed to step up the offensive.

The Farc said it would halt all offensive military operations and acts of sabotage against infrastructure beginning at midnight yesterday night and running through 

January 20.

“This decision by the Farc is a decisive contribution to strengthen the climate of understanding needed so the parties ... can achieve the purpose desired by all Colombians,” lead Farc negotiator Ivan Marquez said, standing outside a convention centre for the start of talks in Havana.

The gesture is a sign that the rebels are keen to push talks forward to a successful end, something that was thrown into doubt by long, drawn-out speeches by its leadership calling for major changes to Colombia’s political system. The warring sides arrived in black luxury cars at the site where they will meet almost daily until the talks end. A crush of journalists surrounded the bespectacled Marquez who stood with other Farc delegates including Dutch national Tanja Nijmeijer in Havana’s plushest neighbourhood.

Some Farc delegates wore reminders on caps and T-shirts of Simon Trinidad, an official guerrilla negotiator who is in prison in the United States. Others shouted “Long Live the Army of the People.”

The head of the government’s delegation, Humberto de la Calle, smiled and waved as he entered but gave no declaration. Officials want the talks held in the strictest possible secrecy, which is likely one reason they are in communist Cuba, where the government is expert at controlling information.

Colombia’s war has dragged on for nearly half a century, taking thousands of lives, displacing millions more and causing damage to infrastructure in Latin America’s longest running insurgency.

Failure of the peace process would mean years of more fighting and further blight on the reputation of a country eager for more foreign investment and regional clout, yet which has been unable to resolve its most serious domestic problem.

Residents in western Cauca province, one of the nation’s most war-ravaged areas, celebrated the Farc ceasefire. REUTERS