Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday announced that the military will suspend air strikes on camps of rebel group FARC for one month in response to a unilateral guerrilla ceasefire called in December.
Santos’ administration and the 50-year-old rebel group have been engaged in peace talks since November 2012.
The president’s order to cease all air strikes on rebel targets comes three months after the FARC announced it would indefinitely cease fire in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict while talks are ongoing.
“To encourage the de-escalation of the conflict, I have decided to order the minister of defense and the commanders of the armed forces to cease the bombing of FARC camps for one month,” said Santos.
Until Tuesday, the government continued offensives against guerrilla camps, which resulted in numerous dead soldiers and guerrillas while putting pressure on FARC leaders who had ordered their troops only to act in self-defense.
If the FARC maintains its unilateral ceasefire, Santos will extend the suspension of air strikes at the end of the first month, he said.
“At the end of this period we will again revise the FARC’s compliance to the ceasefire. Depending on those results we will decide if we continue with this measure,” said Santos.
“In any case we do not renounce bombings if we detect an imminent threat to the population,” the president assured.
The suspension of air strikes means that for the first time in years, the approximately 7,000 armed FARC members can sleep without having to worry about overflying airplanes while on non-active in regards to fighting the military or other targets.
According to both the government and independent observers, the FARC largely complied with the indefinite ceasefire that took force on December 20 and have kept the fighters mainly at their rebel camps.
The rebels called this ceasefire after agreeing to a de-escalation of armed conflict while negotiators in Cuba are trying to barter an indefinite bilateral ceasefire.
This bilateral truce could be put in place before reaching a final peace agreement with the guerrillas who have been at war with the state for half a century.
The two negotiating teams have so far agreed on a rural reform, future political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking.
The main negotiating teams are currently talking about victim compensation and legal responsibility for war crimes. A military and a guerrilla subcommittee is negotiating the final end to conflict.
If the talks prove successful they will end a conflict that according to official statistics has left more than 7 million victims.