Colombia’s FARC rebels release army general in bid to revive peace talks

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ALINA DIESTE
BOGOTA — Agence France-Presse
Published Sunday, Nov. 30 2014, 11:14 PM EST
Last updated Sunday, Nov. 30 2014, 11:14 PM EST



Colombia’s leftist FARC guerrillas freed an army general Sunday in a concession to revive suspended peace talks, but President Juan Manuel Santos still refused to budge on their calls for a ceasefire.

Two weeks after sending the peace process into crisis by capturing Brigadier-General Ruben Alzate, their highest-ranking captive in 50 years of conflict, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia handed him and two other army captives over to the Red Cross in the jungle-covered department of Choco.

“Freed … in perfect condition,” tweeted Mr. Santos, who suspended the peace talks on which he has staked his presidency over Gen. Alzate’s capture.

The move paves the way for the two sides to resume the two-year-old talks in the Cuban capital Havana, the most promising bid yet to end the five-decade guerrilla war.

But no sooner had Gen. Alzate been freed than the FARC and Mr. Santos were at loggerheads again over the issue of a ceasefire.

Mr. Santos has repeatedly refused to consider a bilateral ceasefire without a peace agreement, on grounds that the rebels would use it to regroup, lengthening the war.

In a statement from Havana, the FARC urged him to reconsider.

“The time has come for a bilateral ceasefire, or an armistice, so that no act of war in the fields of battle can be used to justify the interruption” of the peace process, they said. They called to “redesign the rules of the game” as the peace talks take up the most sensitive issues: disarmament and reparations for victims.

But although Mr. Santos said he would meet with the government’s negotiating team to discuss “the terms of their return to Havana,” he appeared unwilling to yield on a ceasefire.

“I’m convinced that negotiating in the midst of the conflict has been the best way to preserve the essential elements of the state and prevent the talks from becoming an interminable exercise,” he said in a statement.

He praised Gen. Alzate’s release, however, saying it “contributes to recovering a favourable climate to continue the talks [and] demonstrates the maturity of the process.”

Gen. Alzate, 55, heads a task force charged with fighting the rebels and drug traffickers who are rife in Choco, a remote western department that is the poorest in Colombia.

He was captured along with Corporal Jorge Rodriguez and army adviser Gloria Urrego on Nov. 16 as they travelled by boat without a security detail to visit a civilian energy project.

The FARC defended their capture as a legitimate act of war taken in the absence of a ceasefire.

Cuba and Norway, which serve as guarantors of the peace talks, announced on Nov. 19 that a deal had been reached for the FARC to release the three captives, plus two soldiers captured in combat on Nov. 9, in order to get the talks back on track.

After the rebels released the two soldiers last Tuesday and the army halted operations in Choco, FARC commander Felix Antonio Munoz, alias Pastor Alape, flew in from Havana to oversee Gen. Alzate’s release.

It took place on the banks of the Arquia River in the small village of Vegaez in northeastern Choco, on a day drenched by a tropical rainstorm.

The speed with which the crisis was resolved showed that both sides were keen to avoid an escalation that could permanently damage negotiations, said Angelika Rettberg, an expert on the peace process.

“The peace process already was showing signs of inertia,” she said.

The talks in Havana, the fourth attempt at a peace deal, have made halting progress since they began in November, 2012, but a comprehensive peace agreement has remained elusive.

Getting them back on a sound footing may not be easy, some observers say.

“In the long run, this episode will be felt in Havana,” said Christian Voelkel, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

The FARC’s leader, Timoleon Jimenez, who goes by the alias Timochenko, warned pointedly last week that the government’s suspension had “destroyed trust,” adding: “Things can’t just resume as they were.”

The Colombian conflict has claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people and uprooted 5.3 million more since the FARC was founded in the aftermath of a peasant uprising in 1964.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/colombias-farc-rebels-release-army-general-in-bid-to-revive-peace-talks/article21840916/
 
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Neither side is willing to make any compromises and the death toll continues to rise as fighting between the government and the FARC rebels ensues. President Santos needs to put an end to these kidnappings and random attacks but it seems he lacks the military strength to do it.
 
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BOGOTA, COLOMBIA—
Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels will soon free a soldier captured last week during an ambush of a military patrol in which they killed five of his colleagues, according to an online statement Thursday.

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began a pre-announced cease-fire at midnight last Friday, the same day they captured Carlos Becerra Ojeda, 25, during the attack on troops patrolling in the southwestern province of Cauca.

"The liberation is another gesture of peace by the FARC and a humanitarian act at the same time, considering that the soldier was lightly wounded during the combat," the statement said.

The soldier would be handed over at an unspecified time in the coming days to a delegation comprising the International Red Cross and representatives of Cuba and Norway, both guarantors in peace talks between the rebels and Colombia's government.

In a separate statement Thursday, the FARC said it would aim for peace in 2015 amid progress in talks launched by President Juan Manuel Santos in late 2012, in the latest of several recent conciliatory statements by the rebels.

The sides have reached partial deals on land reform, the FARC's future participation in politics and how to end the drug trade. The tricky points of victim compensation and how to bring the armed conflict to an end have yet to be agreed on.

The FARC has called cease-fires each year over Christmas since the peace talks began but made the surprise announcement last week that this year's cease-fire would be indefinite, ending only if government troops attacked.

The FARC was formed in 1964, mushrooming out of a peasant movement demanding land reform, and has fought successive governments in a mainly rural conflict that has killed more than 220,000 and uprooted millions from their homes.

Colombia's FARC to Free Kidnapped Soldier
 
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Neither side is willing to make any compromises and the death toll continues to rise as fighting between the government and the FARC rebels ensues. President Santos needs to put an end to these kidnappings and random attacks but it seems he lacks the military strength to do it.
I completely agree and unless they come to some kind of compromise, it will just continue to get worst.
 
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