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Colombia's FARC rebels suspend ceasefire after government ambush

The Colombian Marxist rebel group FARC has suspended a unilateral ceasefire after a deadly ambush by government troops. The move will strain peace talks trying to end five decades of war in the country.

In a statement released on Friday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said it was outraged at the attack, in which 26 of its fighters were killed at a jungle campsite.

"We deplore the attack by the air force, army and police," the statement said, with a rebel fighter on Twitter saying that members were "murdered in the deep of night … without a chance to fight back."

Thursday's incident, which took place in the province of Cauca known for drug trafficking activity, was one of the deadliest confrontations since discussions began between the two. It came on the same day as the opening of a new round of negotiations.

The ceasefire, which had been in place since late December last year, was viewed skeptically by most Colombians. But many hoped it signaled a move towards ending the half-century-old conflict.

In a televised address, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos called for an end to the "spiral of violence, hate and vengeance."

"The rebels will be thinking about retaliation," he said. "What we have to do is stop; stop and transform it into a spiral of forgiveness and reconciliation."

A Twitter post echoed those words, urging the group to step up talks and asking "how many more deaths are needed to understand that now is the time for peace!"

He also praised the armed forces for their hard work, calling it a significant blow to FARC.

Santos announced they had seized a stockpile of weapons during the raid, including assault rifles and a machine gun.

Since 2012 negotiations to end the conflict, that has seen more than 200,000 people killed, have so far seen mixed results.

Three points out of a five-point agenda have been agreed upon by both sides, however the FARC continues to call for the government to announce its own ceasefire.

President Santos has rejected the idea of stopping military operations against the rebels before a final peace agreement is settled.

FARC described Santos' refusal as "incoherence," but said that talks would continue "against our will."

This latest incident comes a month after the government resumed bombing raids on FARC camps, prompted by the guerilla group's killing of 11 soldiers in the same region.

FARC said it was a case of self defense against an attack.

The group recently met with leftist rebels the National Liberation Army (ELN) over the possibility of joining the peace process.

an/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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