HAVANA (Reuters) - The Colombian armed forces’ aerial bombing campaign against leftist guerrillas killed a member of the rebel negotiating team who had participated in peace talks in Cuba, a guerrilla commander said on Wednesday.
The escalation of violence in Colombia has stirred the concern of two sponsors of the peace talks, Cuba and Norway, which have urged both sides to keep working toward a bilateral cease-fire and a definitive end to hostilities.
Jairo Martinez, a veteran of two separate peace processes, was one of 27 rebels killed last Thursday in Cauca province, in a raid that prompted rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end a five-month unilateral cease-fire.
Martinez was also involved in peace talks during the government of President Andres Pastrana, who held office from 1998 to 2002. Although he was active in the Havana talks, he was in Colombia on an education mission when he was caught in the attack, FARC leader Pastor Alape told reporters in Havana.
Alape confirmed Martinez’s death and then added a message to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos: “Peace talks won’t advance with blood baths, President Santos.”
On Monday the FARC reported the death of senior rebel commander Roman Ruiz, who was killed in a separate government bombing attack in the province of Choco.
Those two raids and another on Saturday have killed about 40 guerrillas.
The Santos government and the FARC have held peace talks in Havana for the past 2-1/2 years in a bid to end Latin America’s longest war, which has killed 220,000 and displaced millions since 1964.
Fighting has continued during the talks. The FARC had demanded the government reciprocate after its indefinite unilateral cease-fire, but Santos has refused, citing previous peace talks when the rebels exploited the truce to re-arm.
In March, Santos agreed to halt the bombing raids temporarily in recognition of the FARC’s cease-fire. But he ordered new air assaults in response to a rebel ground attack that killed 10 soldiers in Cauca in April.
“We call on the parties to continue their efforts on finding a negotiated solution to the remaining issues, including reaching an agreement on a definitely bilateral cease-fire and cessation of hostilities,” said Dag Nylander, a Norwegian guarantor of the peace talks.
Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Dan Grebler and Clarence Fernandez