Santos made his announcement in his televised new-year address to the nation in which he expressed hope that this year his administration is able to successfully conclude peace talks with the country’s largest and longest-living rebel group.
“This could be the year that the armed conflict that we have suffered for more than half a century comes to an end,” said Santos, whose administration has been negotiating peace with the guerrillas since formal talks began in November 2012.
Until now, the government has insisted on maintaining its counter-insurgency offensives in spite of repeated calls by the FARC to come to a bilaterally end hostilities that have increasingly put pressure on the credibility of the talks.
On Wednesday, the guerrillas announced they had killed eight soldiers. These casualties are added to another nine alleged combat kills made by the guerrillas since they called a unilateral truce in December.
When returning to Cuba from their winter recess on January 26, negotiators were supposed to continue negotiations regarding victims. However, according to Santos, “we are trying to de-escalate the intensity of the conflict.”
In order to achieve a de-escalation of violence, Santos ordered the military sub-commission that was formed to negotiate the indefinite end of violence to prioritize these talks.
“Senior officials in active duty have been preparing this discussion under the leadership of — as already reported — General Javier Florez, who has come from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to become Chief Transition Commander,” the president said.
Santos claimed that — in spite claiming 14 combat kills — the FARC has complied with its promise to refrain from carrying out attacks after December 20 when the guerrillas’ unilateral and indefinite ceasefire took force.
“Until now, we have to say, they have complied,” said the president.
The FARC called its unilateral ceasefire under two conditions: international observers of the truce and military restraint when it comes to attacks on guerrilla units.
The rebels decided to keep up the ceasefire in spite of the government’s initial rejection of both conditions. Nevertheless, Santos had already said earlier this month that “the situation is different” than when talks began and a bilateral ceasefire was out of question.
Since talks began, the government and the rebels have agreed on three of five agenda points before a peace deal is signed and mutual agreements implemented. If successful, the peace talks will end more than 50 years of conflict that according to government statistics killed more than 900,000 Colombians and left more than 10% of the population home or landless.