Colombia's FARC ready for ceasefire

Commander repeats truce proposal in interview but insists both government and rebels must lay down their weapons.

    The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, says it is open to a ceasefire with the government, as long as both sides lay down their weapons.

    But Colombia's president has already rejected a ceasefire proposal from the rebel movement even though the government and FARC are due to begin direct negotiations next month aimed at ending their decades-long conflict.

    The rapid declaration of a ceasefire in Colombia would increase the odds of success for upcoming peace talks between the government and leftist FARC rebels, the International Crisis Group said in a report on Tuesday.

    Conflict 'impedes democracy'

    The non-governmental group, which specialises in conflict resolution, urged the two sides to "achieve a bilateral ceasefire in an early phase of negotiations."

    "The road ahead will not be short or smooth, but Colombia cannot afford to muff this chance for peace," it wrote in its report. The group added that the "exercise of military restraint" is needed "to produce humanitarian relief in conflict zones and minimise risk of destabilising the peace talks".

    The peace talks set to open in Norway next month and then continue in Cuba are the first attempt in a decade to achieve a negotiated end to Latin America's oldest guerrilla war, after three earlier failures.

    "There seems a firmer willingness to reach an agreement, as the government realises military means alone cannot end the conflict and FARC appears to recognise that the armed struggle permits survival but little else," the report said.

    ICG called on FARC to release all hostages and provide information about those unaccounted for [GALLO/GETTY]

    The ICG emphasised that the conflict "still costs lives on a daily basis, holds back socio-economic development and impedes the consolidation of a truly inclusive and pluralistic democracy".

    The report also called for the inclusion of representatives of "civil society" in the negotiations, and in particular communities directly affected by the conflict, who are not currently represented on either side's negotiating team.

    The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, founded in 1964, is the country's largest guerrilla group with 9,000 combatants, mainly in remote rural areas.

    The ICG urged the rebels to "accept all international standards on the conduct of conflict, including those that prohibit the use of minors, and progressively release such minors as may be in its forces".

    The Colombian security forces likewise "should no longer use minors for intelligence and surveillance tasks and make this commitment public," it said.

    The report also called on the FARC to immediately release all hostages and provide information about those unaccounted for; refrain from the use of car bombs and attacks on civilian utilities; and allow unimpeded access to humanitarian workers in conflict zones.

    The FARC, which in February announced it would stop engaging in kidnappings for ransom, in April freed 10 captive police officers and soldiers, insisting they were its last hostages, an assertion questioned by many.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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