Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia ready for truce talks with Farc - President Santos

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Photo: December 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Juan Manuel Santos said Colombia was now "closer than ever to secure peace"

Colombia's president has said his government is for the first time prepared to begin talks on a bilateral ceasefire with Farc rebels.

Juan Manuel Santos said he had asked negotiators to start discussions "as soon as possible".

He said a unilateral truce declared by the leftist rebels last month "has been a step in the right direction".

The government had previously refused to join the ceasefire, saying the Farc would use it to rearm.

The two sides have been engaged in peace talks in Cuba since November 2012 to try to end decades of conflict.

'Real belief'

In a televised address on Wednesday, Mr Santos said peace was closer than ever and it was now time "to de-escalate the intensity of the conflict".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Most of the victims are Colombian civilians caught up in the fighting in rural areas
Image copyright AFP
Image caption An archive picture shows the Farc guerrillas in the 1980s, when they had more fighters and bigger resources

"We're closer than ever to secure peace and make it a reality for us, our children and our children's children.

"I have given instructions to the negotiators to initiate as soon as possible a discussion on the point of the definitive bilateral ceasefire and end of hostilities."

Mr Santos added that high-ranking military officials had already been appointed to manage the process.

Correspondents say up to now the president has been under pressure from the military not to discuss a bilateral truce because of concerns that the Farc would use it to rearm.

For years, talks of a truce between the government and the rebels was simply unthinkable, says the BBC's Arturo Wallace in Bogota.

But his latest announcement means the government believes the talks are entering into the final stretch, our correspondent adds.

On 20 December the rebels declared an indefinite cessation of hostilities, in an unprecedented move.

Some 220,000 people, most of them civilians, are estimated to have been killed since the Marxist-inspired rebels launched their armed struggle in 1964.

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