Colombia negotiator: New cease-fire still not out of reach

January 11, 2018

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2017 file photo, President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during an event marking one year since the signing of the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, at Colon theater in Bogota, Colombia. Santos said new rebel attacks Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, have prompted him to recall his chief negotiator to peace talks with the country’s last remaining insurgent group in a setback for efforts to end a half-century of political violence in the South American nation (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan, File)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia’s chief government negotiator in peace talks with the nation’s last remaining rebel group said Thursday officials are still committed to reaching a new cease-fire agreement despite fresh guerrilla attacks that put a pause on the dialogue.

In a televised address, Gustavo Bell said both sides will need to act quickly because part of the United Nations commission overseeing the prior, temporary bilateral cease-fire that ended Tuesday has already begun to disband.

Bell added that the government’s willingness to reach a new cease-fire agreement requires demonstration of “unequivocal acts of peace.”

President Juan Manuel Santos recalled Bell from peace talks in Ecuador Wednesday after guerrillas with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, staged new attacks hours after the expiration of a 101-day cease-fire. Bell’s recall signaled a considerable setback in talks that began last February to end Colombia’s final rebel conflict.

Ministry of Defense officials said Thursday they had detected 12 ELN assaults since the cease-fire’s end including four attacks on oil pipelines, a grenade launch that left two marines injured and the shooting death of a soldier.

The ministry said on Twitter that the nation’s military has been ordered to resume operations against rebels “with full intensity and force.”

International leaders, the Catholic Church and the head of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which until recently was the nation’s largest guerrilla group, are all urging government and ELN negotiators to resume talks. FARC rebels reached an historic peace agreement ending the region’s longest-running conflict in 2016, an event that many credit with paving the way toward ELN peace talks.

FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, released a video saying the new attacks should be rigorously investigated but that both sides should persist in reaching a negotiated exit to the conflict.

“In spite of the difficulties, it is a moral obligation,” he said.

The 1,500-member ELN was founded in the 1960s and led in early years by radical Catholic priests adhering to liberation theology and communist beliefs, aiming to resolve the nation’s deep and still persistent social and economic inequality.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is heading to Colombia this weekend to support peace efforts amid growing concerns about the reintegration of FARC rebels into civil society and new attacks by the last rebel holdouts.

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