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Colombia peace sponsors urge Bogota and FARC rebels to 'de-escalate'

Four countries involved in peace talks between the Colombian government and the leftist FARC rebel group have called for an urgent de-escalation of renewed conflict. The violence threatens to derail talks.

The countries sponsoring Colombia's peace process urged both government forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to put a halt to escalating conflict.

Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela on Tuesday called on both parties to follow the spirit of peace talks that have been taking place in Havana since last year. The negotiations are widely seen as having produced the most progress of any effort so far toward ending strife that has endured since 1964.

"We urge the parties to strictly restrict any actions that cause victims or suffering in Colombia, and to step up the implementation of confidence-building measures," Norwegian representative Idun Arrak Tvedt said in a statement to journalists.

"We consider these steps to be essential in order to guarantee the conditions for and create a climate conducive to achieving agreement."

The statement was signed by Norway and Cuba, which are acting as a so-called "guarantors" in the peace talks, as well as "escort" countries Chile and Venezuela.

Among the successes of the earlier peace talks was an agreement between FARC and the government on the

removal of landmines

. But, despite the appeal, two soldiers were killed on Tuesday after attacks that authorities attributed to FARC.

Brittle ceasefire crumbles

In March, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had agreed to stop aerial bombing of FARC, in recognition of a unilateral ceasefire it had declared at Christmas. However, the peace was broken in April when, in response to a rebel attack that killed 10 soldiers, Santos ordered renewed air assaults.

FARC has also embarked on more attacks, renewing its operations against the military as well as sabotaging roads, pipelines and other utilities.

Both sides have blamed each other, with Colombia's top government negotiator threatening to walk away from negotiations. Bogota claims that the group has a history of treating truces merely as windows in which to rearm themselves.

The decades-old conflict has drawn in left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs, resulting in the deaths of more than 220,000 people,

including civilians, as well as the displacement of some six million

. So far, the two sides in the talks have only agreed on three points of a six-point agenda.

rc/jr (AFP, Reuters)

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