A Colombian corporal and 10 other soldiers were killed in a confrontation with leftist guerrillas in southwest Cauca province, the nation's defense ministry confirmed Wednesday. It was the most serious breach yet of a cease-fire declared by the insurgents in December.
The rebels attacked a unit of the army’s 17th Mobile Brigade late Tuesday with explosives, grenades and firearms near the Buenos Aires township as the troops were carrying out unspecified security operations, the ministry said in a statement. Nine other soldiers were wounded.
FOR THE RECORD
April 15, 1:25 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that one of those killed was an officer. The slain soldier was a corporal.
In the release, the Colombian military blamed the Miller Perdomo Mobile Column of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for the attack. The FARC has been negotiating a peace agreement with government officials since November 2012.
In comments to reporters before entering a session of the talks in Havana on Wednesday, a FARC negotiator known by the alias Pastor Alape confirmed the battle but blamed the government for “incoherence” and for planning military operations against “rebels who are in a truce.”
The FARC declared a unilateral cease-fire in December as what it termed a peace gesture. The government declined to respond in kind, maintaining as it has throughout the negotiations that the military would cease hostilities only when a peace deal is signed.
The government did agree to halt aerial bombardment of rebel camps, but President Juan Manuel Santos' office released a statement Wednesday calling off that agreement in the wake of the soldiers' killings.
There have been several violent incidents since December resulting in soldier and rebel deaths. However, none has been on the scale of Tuesday night’s incident, which analysts said bore the characteristics of an ambush. The southwest zone of Colombia is a particular area of conflict because the rebels’ access to the Pacific, where they trade guns and drugs, runs through it.
There was no immediate reaction from the government’s negotiating team in Havana as to whether the killings would affect negotiations. Representatives for the government team did not respond immediately to a request for comment, and Wednesday’s session opened as scheduled.
The two sides have made moves toward a peace deal, including the government's decision to suspend bombardments and last month’s agreement that the FARC would participate in de-mining activities. But agreement has been reached on only three of five main points in a prospective accord. Santos is pressing the rebels to sign an agreement by the fall so it can be put before Colombian voters by year's end.
Sen. Alvaro Uribe, a former president and persistent critic of the negotiations, said in a message sent out over social media that the “Peace of Santos is the extermination of the armed forces.”
Kraul is a special correspondent.