HAVANA — Colombia's FARC rebel group said Thursday it will seek a ceasefire in Latin America's oldest armed conflict when peace talks begin next month with the government, which has ruled out a truce.
"We will propose a ceasefire as soon as we sit down at the negotiating table," Mauricio Jaramillo said at a news conference here. He said talks will start October 8.
But there seems scant chance of a ceasefire by the government, at least initially, experts say.
President Juan Manuel Santos, in announcing this week the opening of the talks, insisted the army would keep up or even increase pressure on the rebels during the peace negotiations.
The talks are due to begin in Oslo and then move to Havana, the first attempt in a decade to reach a negotiated end to an armed conflict that began in 1964 with the founding of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
The rebel army draws its roots from anger among landless peasants in a country with a huge divide between rich and poor.
The last peace talks, in 2002, fell apart when the government concluded that a vast demilitarized zone it created and where the talks were held was used by the guerrillas to rebuild.
That is why Santos has said repeatedly he does not want to "repeat the mistakes of the past."
There probably would not be a ceasefire until the peace process is approaching its conclusion, said Ariel Avila, an expert on the Colombian conflict at the New Rainbow peace foundation.
"Of course, there is the risk that the process will derail if there is a major attack or a car bombing. But it is also possible that hostilities will diminish," Avila said in Bogota.
But some in Colombia and in the international community, including the United Nations, argue that a peace process needs a ceasefire and will stand a better chance of succeeding if there is one.
Avila said if a ceasefire is declared, it will not be any time soon because Santos is half-way through a four-year term, the country will soon shift into electoral mode and critics such as his political mentor Alvaro Uribe are already calling him soft on "terrorists".
In Havana, Jaramillo named the FARC negotiating team, and declined to say what FARC would do if one of its commanders were killed in battle while peace talks were under way.
"It is complicated to go into suppositions and speculation. We are at war, and we are aware of the need to end the conflict," he said.
Jaramillo said the rebels also would demand that Simon Trinidad, a FARC leader imprisoned in the United States, be allowed to join the negotiations.
Trinidad, whose real name is Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda, was arrested in Quito in November 2004 and extradited to the United States where he is serving a 60-year sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Jaramillo denied the FARC was involved in drug trafficking and also declared that the guerrilla group was no longer in the business of kidnapping.