By Julia Symmes Cobb and Helen Murphy
Colombia’s Marxist FARC rebels suspended a unilateral ceasefire after government troops killed 26 of its fighters, the guerrilla group said on Friday, a move that will likely ratchet up tension at peace talks to end five decades of war
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said it lifted the ceasefire because of the attack, one of the deadliest military confrontations since the two sides began negotiations more than two years ago.
“We deplore the attack by the air force, army and police,” the FARC said in a statement. The ceasefire has been in place since late December.
Minutes before the rebel statement, President Juan Manuel Santos urged the group in a televised address to accelerate the pace of the peace talks. He encouraged an end to the “spiral of violence, hate and vengeance” and praised the armed forces for their efforts.
The bombing raid and ground combat which killed the 26 at their jungle camp took place in a key drug trafficking region of Cauca where the FARC has a strong presence.
Peace talks to halt a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions began at the end of 2012 and have so far resulted in partial agreement on three items on a five-point agenda.
The rebel deaths come a month after the FARC killed 11 soldiers in the same region, prompting the government to restart bombing raids on guerrilla camps after a brief suspension.
The FARC has repeatedly demanded that the government also declare a ceasefire, but Santos has refused to stop military offensives until a final peace deal is agreed.
“We insist on the necessity to agree, for the health of the peace process and avoid new victimizations, a bilateral ceasefire,” the rebel statement said.