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Colombia's FARC rebels announce temporary truce

From Patrick Oppmann, CNN
November 20, 2012 -- Updated 0144 GMT (0944 HKT)
Colombia government negotiators speak prior to peace talks with the FARC on Sunday.
Colombia government negotiators speak prior to peace talks with the FARC on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: FARC commander Ivan Marquez calls on the Colombian government to join the cease-fire
  • Colombia's FARC rebels announce one-sided truce as goodwill gesture
  • FARC is taking part in peace talks with Colombia's government
  • Bogota has previously rejected any truces before a peace deal

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Colombia's top rebel group, FARC, announced Monday it will temporarily halt its decades-old battle against government forces starting at midnight as a goodwill gesture amid peace talks with the Colombia government.

FARC commander Ivan Marquez announced the unilateral cease-fire and called on the the Colombian government to do the same as he arrived for peace talks at Cuba's Convention Palace in Havana Monday.

"Heeding the overwhelming demand for peace from diverse sectors of the country, the FARC secretariat orders guerrilla units across the country to cease military operations and acts of sabotage," Marquez said

The rebel cease-fire is scheduled to start Monday night and last until January 20, the rebel group said. It's unlikely the Colombian government will take part in the two-month truce: Bogota has said previously that it will not consider a cease-fire until after a final agreement is reached.

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FARC had signaled that it would pursue a cease-fire, even before peace talks, now being held in Havana, began in mid-October in Norway. Critics of the move believe it's just an attempt by the rebel group to rebuild its forces.

The leftist FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has been at war with the government since the 1960s, making it the longest-running insurgency in Latin America.

The U.S. State Department, which has listed FARC as a terror group, posted a $5 million reward for the capture of Marquez, whose real name is Luciano Marin Arango.

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There have been sporadic attempts at peace since the 1980s. The last attempt fell apart in 2002. Then-President Andres Pastrana ceded an area the size of Switzerland to the guerrilla group but ended negotiations after rebels launched a series of attacks across the country in an apparent bid to strengthen their position.

But this time, both sides say, they have a more ambitious agenda.

"The end of the armed conflict is the precursor to peace. To achieve it, we have to go deep into the transformation of society," said Humberto de la Calle, a representative for the Colombian government.

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The end of hostilities -- the kidnappings and bombings by the FARC and military operations by the government -- will not usher in peace without a true transformation within the country, he said.

Ivan Marquez, a FARC representative, agreed.

"We are not the guerrillas that some media make us out to be," he said. "We come to the table with proposals and projects to achieve a definitive peace, a peace that implies a demilitarization of the state and radical socioeconomic reforms that are the foundation of democracy, justice and freedom."

The FARC continues to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces, though it has been severely weakened in recent years. Two days after peace talks began in Norway, an apparent FARC rebel attack killed five Colombian soldiers.

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A large distance remains between the sides.

While the Colombian government has said that the FARC could continue to advocate for its positions as a political force, it does not want to negotiate all the group's demands during the peace talks.

"This is about creating an agenda for the end of the conflict that allows the FARC to put forth its ideas unaccompanied by weapons, and with guarantees for its transformation to an unarmed political force," de la Calle said.

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