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Tense talks as FARC rebels describe Colombia government attacks as 'step back'

The end of a unilateral ceasefire by FARC rebels in Colombia has made for a tense return to the negotiating table. Long-running peace talks with the government have resumed - albeit in a precarious position.

As negotiators began a new round of peace talks in Cuba's capital Havana on Monday, a FARC spokesman condemned the

recent Colombian government attacks

which have left dozens of its fighters dead.

"Without a doubt, the tragic events are a step backward in what we've achieved up to now at the negotiating table," Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) negotiator Jorge Torres Victoria [pictured], also known as Pablo Catatumbo , said. "That's the wrong path and it's obvious that peace will never be reached by escalating the conflict."

"We'll proceed with cool heads and ardent hearts, we cannot throw away our determined efforts in more than three years of talks," he added.

Peace negotiations between FARC and Colombia's government under way since 2012 have reached tentative agreements on land reform and compensation, political participation, drug policy and landmine removal. Since last June, the two sides focused on the conflict's victims.

Trading blows

However, the peace process has been under pressure in recent days. The military killed at least 26 rebel fighters on Friday in air and ground attacks, following an attack by FARC the previous month in the troubled Cauca province which killed 11 soldiers. After Friday's deaths,

FARC suspended the unilateral ceasefire

it had called in December.

Over the weekend, the military killed between eight and 10 more rebels. One policeman was killed and two injured by a rebel bomb on Sunday.

It marked an end to a period of relative calm since President Juan Manuel Santos partially reciprocated the rebels' ceasefire in March by suspending air strikes.

Santos has defended Friday's airstrike as a "legitimate action" and on Saturday

called for the negotiations to be sped up

after having carried on for the past year "without any substantial advance."

FARC has often repeated its desire for a bilateral ceasefire, but Santos has rejected that until a final peace deal is established.

The conflict has killed some 220,000 people and uprooted 5 million since the nominally Marxist FARC launched in 1964 following a series of attacks by the right-wing government on rural dwellers in the aftermath of Colombia's 1950s civil war.

se/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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