Leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have announced a two-month unilateral ceasefire. The announcement was made on the first day of peace talks with Colombian government officials in Cuba.
Colombia's FARC rebels announced a two-month ceasefire on Monday as they opened negotiations with the government in an attempt to restore peace after nearly half a century of war.
FARC spokesman Luciano Marin, known under the alias "Ivan Marquez," said the group will halt all military operations beginning at midnight on Monday until January 20.
"The leadership has ordered that all military operations against government forces come to a halt," Marquez said upon arrival at the talks in Havana.
"This policy decision of the FARC is a contribution made to strengthen the climate of understanding necessary so that the parties that are starting the dialogue achieve the purpose desired by all Colombians," he said.
The conflict dates back to 1964 when the FARC emerged as a communist agrarian movement fighting social inequality in Colombia. The conflict has claimed thousands of lives in what is Latin America's longest running insurgency.
Three previous peace processes have proved fruitless, but both the Colombian government and the FARC have expressed optimism that this time might be different.
Long road ahead
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said he wants an agreement within nine months, but the two sides face many disputed issues in their five-point agenda, which will begin with rural development.
The other four points are the political and legal future of the rebels, a definitive end to the conflict, the problem of drug trafficking and compensation for war victims.
"We hope, as also hope the majority of Colombians, that the FARC shows that they think this is the moment for the force of ideas and not the force of bullets," lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said as he left Bogota for Havana on Sunday.
The group was weakened by a US-backed military offensive in 2002 that had reduced its numbers to about 8,000 and forced them into remote mountain and jungle strongholds.
The FARC has sustained itself by cocaine trafficking, kidnapping, ransom and "war taxes" charged within the territories it controls.
hc/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa)