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Eight killed in Colombia attack blamed on FARC

Marco León Calarca, member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, centre, speaks to journalists accompanied by Yuri Camargo, right, and Rubén Zamora during the continuation of peace talks with Colombia''s government in Havana, Cuba, on Friday.

Santos condemns missile assault as negotiations with rebels continue in Havana

BOGOTá — At least eight people were killed and 20 injured in a bomb attack yesterday in a village in southern Colombia that the military blamed on left-wing FARC guerrillas who have been engaged in peace talks with the government for the last year.

Military sources told reporters rebel fighters from the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, launched hand-made missiles into a house serving as an army and police base in the municipality of Inza in Cauca province, a region known for a strong guerrilla presence.

Five soldiers, one police officer and two civilians were killed in the attack that reduced several buildings to rubble.

“We condemn and repudiate this cowardly attack in Inza,” President Juan Manuel Santos wrote on Twitter, adding that he would travel to the area to hold a meeting about security.

Santos initiated peace talks with FARC in Cuba late last year, a decision that has won cautious support from Colombians desperate for peace after five decades of war, while angering those who fear FARC leaders will never face punishment.

Santos also received praise from his US counterpart Barack Obama during a visit to Washington last week. Obama acknowledged, however, that achieving peace will not be easy. “There are many challenges ahead,” he said. “But the fact that he (Santos) has taken this step is the right one.”

Presidential campaign

Santos announced last month he would run in presidential elections next May, a campaign which will pit him against economist Oscar Iván Zuluaga, who advocates defeating the FARC militarily rather compromising with “terrorists.”

Zuluaga was hand-picked by former president álvaro Uribe, one of Santos’ staunchest critics.

A recent poll by Ipsos-Napoleón Franco showed Santos is the preferred candidate ahead of next year’s vote, though a high percentage of undecided voters could still change the outcome.

The same poll showed most Colombians favour the continuation of peace talks with the rebels, even though many don’t trust that the process will achieve peace.

Even Santos, who remains “optimistic”, has expressed doubts. During a conference at the University of Miami last week, he told an audience of academics and students that “the conditions are there” for a successful conclusion to the talks, though “the bread can very well burn right at the door of the oven.”

six-item agenda

Fighting has continued while negotiations take place in Cuba.

Even though FARC rebels engaged in a two-month unilateral ceasefire after peace talks started, the Colombian government vowed to step up military operations and the rebels have increased attacks on oil and mining infrastructure.

The government has vowed to keep pursuing the FARC militarily to keep pressure on them, while the FARC in turn continued attacks against government troops.

The rebels have also blown up oil pipelines with increasing frequency in the last few months to protest an industry whose wealth they say does not benefit the population enough.

Last month, the two sides reached a partial agreement on the rebels’ political participation after a peace deal is struck. And earlier this year, an accord on agrarian issues was announced.

Ten days ago, rebels and government negotiators resumed peace talks in Havana with discussions turning to the country's entrenched drug trade.

Drug-trafficking is the third of the talks’ six-item agenda.

The FARC is considered one of the key players in the drug trade, an accusation it denies. There are concerns that a possible fragmentation of the FARC after peace is achieved may lead many fighters to continue the lucrative trade.

After a dramatic drop in violence following a US-backed offensive launched in 2002, bloodshed has increased over the last four years as security gains appear have ebbed.

Colombia’s five-decade old guerrilla war, led by the FARC and its smaller counterpart, the National Liberation Army or ELN, has left more than 200,000 dead.

Herald with Reuters, AP

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