Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos offered Wednesday to declare a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC guerrillas from January 1, which would mark a major breakthrough in peace talks.
In an address from the presidential palace, Santos offered to grant the leftist rebels\’ longstanding demand for a bilateral ceasefire as part of their nearly three-year-old peace negotiations with the government.
He said the truce would be contingent on sealing a deal on the final point in the six-point agenda for the peace talks, the disarmament and demobilization of rebel fighters.
"Let\’s make an effort so that by December 31 we can finish the agenda point on the end of the conflict and be able to declare a bilateral, internationally monitored ceasefire from January 1," he said.
The rebels, who have been observing a unilateral ceasefire since July, have repeatedly insisted the government reciprocate with a bilateral truce.
Santos has suspended air strikes on FARC positions but had so far refused a truce, insisting it would only strengthen the rebels\’ hand and drag out negotiations.
Ongoing clashes on the ground have strained the peace talks in the Cuban capital Havana.
The president\’s address came just after the defense minister announced the army had killed four FARC fighters and captured two in an operation in southwestern Colombia.
The operation targeted a FARC unit involved in extortion and drug trafficking, he said.
The two sides have set a target date of March 23, 2016 to reach a final peace accord.
They set the deadline last month after reaching a deal on the delicate issue of meting out justice for the abuses that human rights groups say both sides have committed in the conflict.
Founded in 1964 in the aftermath of a peasant uprising, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been fighting the Colombian government for more than half a century, in a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people and uprooted more than six million.