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Colombian Guerrillas and Government Vow to De-Escalate — But No Ceasefire Yet

After a flare-up in violence, the latest announcement from the peace talks in Havana suggests the hemisphere's longest war might nearly be over.

by Joe Parkin Daniels
Jul 14 2015, 6:05pm

Photo by Leonardo Muñoz/EPA

The Colombian peace process has apparently been rescued from the brink of collapse after months of violence, with the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) vowing to de-escalate over the weekend.

The two parties announced on Sunday that they are working toward "an agreement, without delay, on the terms of a bilateral ceasefire and laying down of arms."

The statement, read by representatives from Cuba and Norway — acting as guarantor nations for the peace process — stated that in the meantime, the government would work to wind down their attacks against the rebels, providing they observe a unilateral ceasefire announced last Wednesday.

The FARC claim they will cease hostilities for a month from July 20, the anniversary of Colombian independence.

President Juan Manuel Santos talked tough, saying in a televised statement that in four months he will assess whether to continue with the dialogues, depending on the FARC's compliance with the proposed de-escalation.

There is reason to be hopeful, with the last of the FARC's unilateral ceasefires reducing violence by 90 percent, according to Colombian NGO Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation.

Related: Can a Truth Commission in Colombia Help Heal the Wounds of War's Atrocities?

Number of offensive actions and battles involving the FARC during the peace process.

Though it is not the bilateral ceasefire the rebels have been calling for, the announcement does represent a sea change in the talks. Things had been particularly tense in recent months, with both sides trading blows since the rebels ambushed a military patrol in Cauca in May, killing 11 soldiers.

In the fallout, military airstrikes killed at least 41 FARC guerillas, and the rebels carried out a campaign against key infrastructure targets, even forcing oil truck drivers to spill 200,000 gallons of crude.

Despite Sunday's commitment to de-escalation, the government remains wary of agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire outright, believing it could present the rebels with an opportunity to rearm.

"What the government does not want is to enter into a premature and rushed ceasefire that will take us to the mistakes of the past," High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo said in a televised statement on Monday.

Lisa Haugaard, executive director at the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), argued this move also saves face. "It allows the government to move the peace process forward without losing too much public opinion by announcing a bilateral ceasefire," she told VICE News.

Public approval of the peace talks has been in severe decline over the last few months.

"If the rebels observe their unilateral ceasefire then the government can get what it needs out of that, without taking so much risk," Haugaard went on to say.

The talks, taking place in Havana, hope to bring an end to the hemisphere's longest war, which has killed an estimated 220,000 people and displaced millions, mostly civilians.

"With these new advances, I finally see light at the end of the tunnel," Santos said on Sunday evening.

Follow Joe Parkin Daniels on Twitter: @joeparkdan

Watch the VICE News documentary, I Was Kidnapped by a Colombian Guerrilla Army: Correspondent Confidential: