FARC negotiator “Pablo Catatumbo” said Thursday that a recent suspension in peace talks following the capture of a Colombian Army general demonstrates the need to agree to a bilateral ceasefire.
“For as long as we do not agree a bilateral ceasefire, then of course war incidents will keep happening. We would not be lamenting these facts if [the government] had paid attention to our repeated requests that we agree on a bilateral ceasefire,” the negotiator and military commander of the rebels’ Western Bloc told radio station RCN.
PROFILE: Pablo Catatumbo
Catatumbo thanked the four countries supporting the peace talks for their assistance in resolving the crisis. Norway and Cuba had mediated the release of the five hostages, one of whom is a general who was captured by FARC guerrillas on Sunday after entering guerrilla-controlled area without any security.
The capture was a major embarrassment for the military leadership, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon and specifically President Juan Manuel Santos, who has had difficulty maintaining public confidence in the talks and immediately shut down the talks.
Catatumbo denied that the FARC had used the general and four other detainees a a bargaining chip in the conversations: “From the beginning we have said that this is a gesture of goodwill, a contribution to creating an environment supporting the progress of our conversations in a calmer manner.”
A date has not yet been agreed for the return of the FARC’s captives, but arrangements are reportedly being finalized between the guerrilla group and the International Committee of the Red Cross to release the prisoners.
Prisoners Corporal Jorge Rodriguez and lawyer Gloria Urrego were captured with General Alzate in Choco, while Colombian soldiers Jonathan Rivera Capela and Paulo Cesar Rivera Tapela were earlier captured in the eastern province of Arauca.
Catatumbo said that FARC’s previous unilateral ceasefires had been met with continued attacks from the Army, and that in the absence of a bilateral ceasefire further such incidents could occur. He described the capture of General Alzate as “a “military action” that was no different to if the Army arrested a FARC commander in a hamlet. “To any impartial analyst” he said, “this would not be a kidnapping.”
The FARC, at war with the Colombian state since 1964, for decades would keep captured members of the military under inhumane circumstances in jungle camps for extended periods of time. The group used the hostages to negotiate the release of captured FARC rebels.
In 2012, half a year before peace talks with the Santos administration began, the rebel group renounced kidnapping in general and has since delivered a number of imprisoned soldiers to humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross.