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Colombia: Violence flares in lead-up to new round of FARC peace talks

Recent kidnappings and intensified fighting have increased public skepticism about the Colombian government and FARC rebel peace talks. Today marks a new round of negotiations in Havana.

By Sibylla BrodzinskyCorrespondent / February 18, 2013

Demonstrators hold a banner that reads in Spanish; 'No more FARC, no more kidnapping, no more terrorism, no more violence,' at a protest against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a rebel group in Bogotá, Colombia, Friday. Recent kidnappings have set a violent backdrop to Monday's negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

Fernando Vergara/AP

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Bogotá

Colombian government and rebel negotiators begin a new round of peace talks today, even as hostilities between the two sides intensify and test the patience of war-weary Colombians. But the fact that negotiations have withstood the strain is a promising sign of the strength of the process, analysts say. 

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Tensions rose at the peace talks last month – which are being held in Havana between the Colombian government and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – when the guerrillas seized two policemen and a soldier following the lifting of a unilateral cease-fire Jan. 20. The policemen were released on Friday and the soldier on Saturday, after being held for several weeks.

When leaving Bogotá for Havana yesterday, the government’s top negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said he recognized “the release of the policemen and the soldier by the FARC,” but repeated that “kidnapping is an unacceptable crime.”

However, the release did not signify a new wave of calm in Colombia. While the policemen were being released from captivity in southwestern Colombia, the FARC ambushed an army unit just 20 miles from the capital, Bogotá, killing three soldiers and wounding another three. That was followed Saturday by a predawn attack on a police station in the town of Puerto Asis, Putumayo, near the border with Ecuador, which left the police station in ruins and damaged more than two dozen homes. Government troops have also struck out against the rebels, killing the leader of the FARC’s Fifth Front and five others when they stormed a guerrilla camp Jan. 31.

Public opinion

The kidnappings and the intensified fighting have increased public skepticism about the peace talks. A Datexco survey published Monday showed that just 32 percent of Colombians polled approve of the way President Juan Manuel Santos is handling the peace process, and only 20 percent believe the talks will lead to a peace deal.  

Oscar Quintero, mayor of the town of Caloto, Cauca, said at a meeting with peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo that the violence in his municipality “is just as bad as it was before the peace process started.” Cauca, located in southwest Colombia, is one of the provinces hit hardest by the conflict.

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