Colombia rebels extend unilateral ceasefire

Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels hint to extend a unilateral ceasefire during another round of peace talks open in Havana

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Leading FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda gestures while speaking

Colombia's Marxist rebels indefinitely extended a month-old ceasefire on Thursday as peace talks resumed in Havana, with the government still pledging not to conduct air raids on rebel camps.

Despite the occasional incident, fighting between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has more or less stopped in the South American country, the site of the only remaining guerrilla war in the region, as close to three years of negotiations enter a critical stage.

"The issues still to be discussed are complicated, and therefore there has to be an appropriate political climate," said a FARC statement read before the talks resumed.

"Therefore we have decided to maintain the unilateral cease fire," it said.

This peace process has gone further than previous attempts, with partial deals already reached on land reform, the FARC's political participation and ending the illegal drugs trade. The sides are now in a delicate and final phase as they debate the thorny issues of rebel demobilization, victim reparations and ending hostilities.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered a halt to air raids against FARC rebel camps in July and set a November deadline for substantial progress at the talks, stating he wanted a final deal by the end of the year.

Cuba and Norway are mediating the talks, and Chile and Venezuela are observing them.

Colombia's economy is viewed as one of the most promising in the developing world, and investors would welcome a peace accord.

Other Latin American and Caribbean countries have unanimously called for a peace agreement and see it as crucial to regional integration.

The FARC grew out of a 1960s peasant movement demanding land reform. It has been fighting successive governments ever since in a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 and created one of the world's largest internally displaced populations.