Colombia's president has vowed to launch a military offensive against the country's biggest rebel movement, FARC. The announcement comes after 19 soldiers were killed by the guerilla group over the weekend.
President Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday his military will launch an offensive against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) despite being in peace talks with the leftist group since last year.
Fifteen Colombian soldiers were killed in an ambush by FARC forces in the country's eastern border region on Saturday. The troops were guarding a pipeline when they were attacked by some 70 rebels, 12 of whom were captured by government forces. The attack occurred just hours after four soldiers were killed in clashes in the southwest that also left six FARC fighters dead.
"These attacks are not the way. They will be confronted forcefully," Santos said. "I instructed our forces not to stop shooting until the conflict is over."
Peace talks launched
FARC is Colombia's largest rebel group with around 8,000 fighters. Peace talks between the rebel movement and the government started last year in Cuba. It was the fourth attempt at reconciliation to end a conflict that has left some 600,000 people dead, 150,000 missing and 3.7 million displaced since the 1980s.
Santos said he had reached out to FARC in what he saw as a "real opportunity" for peace, but added that "we also have the club, we have the military force, and we are going to use it."
On Friday, FARC announced it had captured a former US soldier, Kevin Scott Sutay, as he was walking alone in Colombia's dangerous southeast region. US Ambassador Michael McKinley said Sutay was in the country as a tourist and demanded his immediate release.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was talking to FARC in an effort to have him freed.
dr/lw (AFP, Reuters, AP)