FARC kills 13 Colombian soldiers ahead of talks
FARC guerrillas killed 13 soldiers in an attack on a Colombian army patrol shortly after officials announced talks with the leftist rebels would resume Monday.
“We regret to inform you that as the result of a FARC terrorist attack, two sergeants and 11 soldiers were killed,” the Colombian army leadership said in a statement Saturday.
The incident took place in a rural area in the Arauca department town of Tame.
Although the army did not specify the circumstances of the attack, military sources quoted by the media said it was an ambush.
“In this same terrorist act, a soldier who was wounded and evacuated from the site is being treated by medical personnel,” the army statement said.
The attack came on the heels of a separate assault on Wednesday claimed by the FARC’s 10th Front that left 15 soldiers dead.
And in May, a FARC attack killed 11 troops.
The government and rebels have been holding peace talks in Havana since November, with the aim of ending Latin America’s longest insurgency.
Former Colombian vice president Humberto de la Calle, the lead negotiator for Bogota, said the FARC would return to the talks on Monday to “continue the discussions normally.”
Colombian negotiators will return to Havana as early as Sunday, he added.
The guerrillas have proposed a bilateral ceasefire during the talks, but President Juan Manuel Santos has rejected the offer, saying it could be used to strengthen the insurgency militarily.
Santos, meanwhile, has presented a proposal that any peace agreement must be put to a national referendum. The FARC has reiterated its hope that any accord would be put before a constituent assembly.
According to Santos, the referendum would take place the same day as March parliamentary elections and a May presidential vote in which he is not seeking a second term.
The initiative “aims solely to allow Colombians to have the final say on the agreements that we obtain in Havana.”
Meanwhile, the rebels released a letter from their leader Timoleon Jimenez dated Thursday in which he questioned Santos’s commitment to peace, saying the president was using the negotiations to promote neoliberalism.
“This agreement being negotiated in Cuba since November last year concerns a pardon for the guerrillas in exchange for the globalization of Colombian neoliberalism,” the leader known as “Timoshenko” wrote in the letter posted on the group’s website FARC-ep.co.
The rebel leader said the first item on the agenda of the talks concerning agricultural policy was signed by the FARC with “some caveats to be determined later” for environmental protection.
On the second subject concerning political participation of the rebels, Timoshenko said that Santos does not want to “give an inch.”
The FARC is Colombia’s main guerrilla and now have about 8,000 fighters, according to the defence ministry.
A government commission last month estimated that 220,000 people have lost their lives in the near 50-year-old conflict. Other estimates run as high as 600,000 dead.