BOGOTA (AFP) – Colombia’s leftist FARC guerrillas freed an army general Sunday in a concession to revive peace talks, but the president refused to budge on their calls for a ceasefire.
Two weeks after sending the peace process into crisis by capturing Brigadier General Ruben Alzate, their highest-ranking captive in 50 years of conflict, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia handed him and two other army captives over to the Red Cross in the jungle-covered department of Choco.
“Freed… in perfect condition,” tweeted President Juan Manuel Santos, who suspended the peace talks on which he has staked his presidency over Alzate’s capture.
The move paves the way for the two sides to resume the two-year-old talks in the Cuban capital Havana, the most promising bid yet to end the conflict.
But no sooner had Alzate been freed than the FARC and Santos were at loggerheads again over the issue of a ceasefire.
Santos has repeatedly refused to consider a bilateral ceasefire without a peace agreement, on grounds that the rebels would use it to regroup, lengthening the war.
In a statement from Havana, the FARC urged him to reconsider.
“The time has come for a bilateral ceasefire, or an armistice, so that no act of war in the fields of battle can be used to justify the interruption” of the peace process, they said.
They urged the government to “redesign the rules of the game” as the peace talks take up the most sensitive issues: disarmament and reparations for victims.
But though Santos said he would meet with the government’s negotiating team to discuss “the terms of their return to Havana,” he appeared unwilling to yield on a ceasefire.
“I’m convinced that negotiating in the midst of the conflict has been the best way to preserve the essential elements of the state and prevent the talks from becoming an interminable exercise,” the president said.
He praised Alzate’s release, however, saying it “contributes to recovering a favourable climate to continue the talks (and) demonstrates the maturity of the process.”