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Colombian Rebels Blame Government for War's Rising Death Toll

Colombian soldiers carry the weapons of comrades killed after a rebel attack in La Esperanza village, April 15, 2015.

Colombia's FARC rebels blamed the Bogota government on Thursday for renewed violence in Latin America's longest war and declined to say whether they had broken their own ceasefire with an attack that killed 11 government soldiers a day earlier.

The clash in rural southwestern Cauca province wounded a further 20 soldiers and killed one rebel, the army said. President Juan Manuel Santos called it a deliberate attack while the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said it was self-defense against encroaching government forces.

In response, Santos ordered the resumption of bombing raids on FARC targets after he had halted air attacks in recognition of the FARC's unilateral truce, declared on Dec. 20.

Despite the violence, two-year-old peace talks resumed on Thursday in Havana, where Colombian government officials and FARC commanders are trying to negotiate an end to a war that has killed 220,000 and displaced millions since 1964.

The FARC had been asking Santos to respond to the rebels' unilateral ceasefire with a two-way truce, but the president had resisted, citing previous peace talks when the rebels used such ceasefires to rearm.

FARC commander Pablo Catatumbo, speaking to reporters in Havana just before entering the latest session of peace talks, declined to answer a question whether the FARC was lifting its unilateral ceasefire, which it called in December.

“Given the circumstances, with the government refusing to sign a bilateral ceasefire, the only one responsible for the rising number of victims and the persistence of the war is the state. It's time for serene reflection, not bellicose decisions,” Catatumbo said.

“If this situation [in Cauca] persists, there will be more clashes,” he said.