Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the resumption of bombing raids against FARC rebels on Wednesday after an attack he blamed on the group killed 10 soldiers, a move that will intensify combat after efforts to cool tensions.
As part of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Santos last month stopped air raids on rebel hideouts in recognition of a unilateral ceasefire declared in December by the insurgent group.
The soldiers were killed in rural southwestern Cauca province in the early hours of Wednesday when the FARC launched an ambush, hurling grenades and firing on them as they sheltered in a covered sports pitch, the army said.
“This incident was a product of a deliberate attack by the FARC, it was not a coincidence and this implies a clear rupture of the promise of a unilateral ceasefire,” Santos said after meeting with his defense team in the city of Cali.
“I have ordered the armed forces to lift the suspension of bombings on FARC camps.”
Santos said the attack, which also killed a FARC fighter, would not go unpunished. At least nine government troops were confirmed injured.
Although the incident is unlikely to derail the 2-year-old peace talks in Cuba, it is the first major clash blamed on the FARC since their ceasefire declaration.
Talks were suspended last year after the rebels kidnapped an army general and several soldiers. They have since been freed.
FARC leader Pablo Catatumbo told Reuters the group regretted the events, which were not “premeditated”. He said the leadership was evaluating the situation and a statement may be issued later.
The confrontation “seems to be caused by the incoherence on the part of the government - ordering military operations against a rebel force in ceasefire,” FARC negotiator Pastor Alape told reporters earlier in Havana. He reiterated the demand for a bilateral ceasefire.
Santos has refused to call a complete end to military action even though he has acknowledged that until now the FARC has adhered to its ceasefire.
The FARC exploited a ceasefire period during a previous peace process more than a decade ago to regroup and build up military strength.
“Events of this kind and this seriousness show once again the need to accelerate the negotiations to put an end to this conflict which keeps bringing sadness to Colombian families,” he said.