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Colombian FARC rebels declare 30-day unilateral ceasefire, urge return deal

Colombia's main leftist guerrilla group, FARC, has announced a 30-day ceasefire at ongoing peace talks with the government, taking place in Cuba. They said they hoped the government in Bogota would respond in kind.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (better known by the Spanish language acronym FARC) pledged a unilateral ceasefire, starting on December 15 and lasting 30 days, at peace talks with the Colombian government on Sunday.

The development followed a bombing outside a police station (aftermath pictured above) in the southwestern Colombian town of Inza early on Saturday, which the army blamed on FARC fighters.

"In a unilateral manner we order all our units … to cease fire and hostilities for 30 days," FARC negotiator and spokesman Pablo Catatumbo told reporters, reading a prepared statement at peace talks in the Cuban capital Havana.

FARC also ordered its fighters to "remain alert for any enemy operations" and to respond to them "without delay."

The leftist guerrilla group, established in 1965 and in conflict with the authorities ever since, said it hoped that the government led by President Juan Manuel Santos would "respond to this gesture by suspending operations."

The Colombian government delegation left the talks in Havana on Sunday without issuing an immediate reaction.

Second try

When the Cuban peace talks were launched in November 2012, FARC offered a similar two-month unilateral ceasefire but later lifted it when the government refused to reciprocate. President Santos, running for re-election next year, had previously said he believed that offering a ceasefire before brokering a peace deal would give the rebels a strategic advantage.

According to the Colombian army, eight people - two civilians, a police officer and five members of the military - were killed in Saturday's bombing. The army said the attack "clearly shows that the FARC continue to systematically commit acts of terrorism against civilians."

Negotiators in Havana identified five areas requiring resolution, and have so far reached agreements on agrarian reform and FARC's eventual return to politics once a comprehensive peace accord is penned.

The current round of talks focus on the issue of drug trafficking; Colombia is one of the world's most prolific exporters of cocaine. FARC and Santos' government also hope to reach accords on disarmament and reparations for victims of the almost 50-year conflict. More than 200,000 people are thought to have died in the fighting.

msh/ccp (AFP, AP, Reuters)