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Fifteen Colombia soldiers killed in rebel ambush: govt

22 july 2013, 12:02
0
©REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga
©REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga
Fifteen Colombian soldiers have been killed in an ambush by leftist FARC rebels, the country's president said Sunday, raising concerns about peace talks launched last year, AFP reports.

"Our hearts are with the families of the fifteen heroes who sacrificed their lives in Arauca for the tranquility and security of their fellow citizens," President Juan Manuel Santos said.

He said the soldiers, guarding a pipeline, were attacked Saturday in the eastern region bordering Venezuela by about 70 rebels, twelve of whom were captured by government forces.

Five of those seized were wounded, he added.

"These attacks are not the way. They will be confronted forcefully," Santos said.

"I instructed our forces not to stop shooting until the conflict is over."

Peace talks between the rebels and the government opened last November in Cuba, the fourth attempt since the 1980s to end Latin America's longest-running armed conflict.

The half-century old guerrilla war has left 600,000 dead, more than 3.7 million displaced and 15,000 missing.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is the country's largest guerrilla group, with some 8,000 fighters.

The latest casualties come just hours after the military said six FARC guerrillas and four soldiers were killed Saturday in clashes in the southwest of the country.

Late Friday the FARC announced it had captured a former US soldier and was ready to release him as a goodwill gesture for the peace talks.

US ambassador Michael McKinley said Kevin Scott Sutay was in the country as a tourist and demanded his immediate release.

The International Committee of the Red Cross meanwhile said it had made contact with the rebels in an effort to free him.

Santos made a strong pitch Saturday in favor of his government's negotiations with the FARC, saying in a speech he saw a "real opportunity" for peace.

"Hopefully the guerrillas will come to their senses and we'll get to the end of this conflict as soon as possible," he said Sunday, adding that the FARC would suffer the consequences otherwise.

Talks are expected to resume in Havana on July 28.

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