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Conflict Escalates in Colombia, Worrying a Nation Watching Delicate Peace Talks

The hemisphere's longest war saw escalating skirmishes this weekend. Ten FARC rebels were killed in a fresh airstrike on Saturday, and more than 350 civilians were displaced after last Thursday's airstrike in the Cauca.
Imagen por EPA/Christian Escobar Mora

Skirmishes have ramped up in Colombia since the guerrilla army FARC abandoned its ceasefire against the government last Friday, raising the stakes on tense peace negotiations still ongoing to end the hemisphere's longest war.

Two civilians and two members of security forces have been killed in recent days in several violent incidents, in rural areas as well as in the Pacific city Tumaco.

A military airstrike in northern Antioquia killed 10 rebels on Saturday.


That leaves at least 36 rebels killed by the armed forces in less than five days, following a Colombian airstrike that killed 26 members of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC, last Thursday in the Cauca department.

Ensuing fighting between the rebels and the military in Cauca has reportedly displaced 352 civilians who were caught in the crossfire. The escalation is stirring anxiety for Colombians hoping to end more than 50 years of conflict that have left at least 220,000 dead and 5.7 million people displaced, mostly civilians.

Related: Colombia's FARC Guerrilla Suspends Unilateral Ceasefire After 26 Killed in Military Airstrike

The FARC's unilateral ceasefire was divisive since the beginning. Conservative leaders in the country called it a "farce," while leftist opposition leaders said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos should propose a bilateral ceasefire in order to boost the peace process.

Many Colombians didn't recognize the FARC's unilateral ceasefire to begin with. Meanwhile the country's second largest rebel group, the ELN, supported the decision to suspend the one-sided truce.

In Tumaco, FARC guerrillas killed a police officer on Sunday by detonating explosives on a passing vehicle. Yet on Monday the guerrilla group reiterated its commitment to the process.

"They can't expect military pressure or threats to break our will to fight. That's the wrong path and it's obvious that peace will never be reached by escalating the conflict," FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo said in a statement.

A local resident in Cauca who said he had ties to the FARC called the escalation troubling. "I am worried, but people also need to remember that guerrillas are people too, and their deaths are tragic," the resident named Javier told VICE News.

Related: Watch the VICE News documentary Buenaventura: Dismemberment and Displacement

Follow Joe Parkin Daniels on Twitter @joeparkdan.