Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos promised decisive retaliation on Sunday after FARC rebels killed 19 soldiers during a single day, in the biggest blow to the military since peace talks began in November.
Colombia’s president pledged to mount a strong military offensive against the country’s largest rebel movement after guerrillas killed 19 soldiers in two regions on Saturday, the heaviest casualties the armed forces have suffered since the government began peace talks late last year.
President Juan Manuel Santos said on Sunday the army will go after the rebels even though the government has been negotiating to end the half-century-long conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) since last year.
“The instructions to our armed forces are not to stop shooting a single moment until we have reached the end of this conflict,” he told reporters, adding that “brute force” was the only solution to resolving the conflict.
Santos said Colombia has put its hand out to the FARC but that the country also had “the club, the military force, and we are going to use it.”
In the bloodier of the two separate attacks on Saturday, 15 soldiers were killed on a road linking two townships in Arauca province near the Venezuelan border, when FARC rebels fired explosives at troops protecting an oil pipeline under construction.
The FARC have a strong presence in the region and frequently attack the existing Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline owned by state-controlled oil company Ecopetrol, which passes through the area.
Another four soldiers were killed in clashes in Caqueta province in the south of the country in clashes with the FARC, the army said, adding that six guerrillas were also killed.
The attacks fell on Colombia's Independence Day.
‘Nation must work for peace’
Despite his pledge for a renewed show of force against the rebels, Santos urged peace as he paid tribute to the soldiers killed in the attack in the north.
“Our hearts are with the families of the heroes who sacrificed their lives in Arauca for the tranquility and security of their fellow citizens,” he said.
“All of Colombia must work for peace precisely so that incidents like those that occurred in the last 24 hours never happen again.
"Hopefully the guerrillas will come to their senses and we'll get to the end of this conflict as soon as possible," he added.
The FARC is the larger of two left-wing guerrilla movements in Colombia, with around 8,000 fighters – according to government figures – which is about half the number it had a decade ago. The much smaller ELN, or National Liberation Army, with which the FARC has recently strengthened ties, is believed to have around 1,500 guerrillas.
Peace talks between the rebels and the government opened last November in Cuba, the fourth attempt since the 1980s to end Latin America's longest-running armed conflict.
The half-century old guerrilla war has left 600,000 dead, more than 3.7 million displaced and 15,000 missing.
Talks are expected to resume in Havana on July 28.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-07-22