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Colombia rejects FARC's verification demand for ceasefire

Colombia's government welcomed on Thursday a plan by Marxist rebels for an indefinite ceasefire but rejected their demand for independent monitoring as a prerequisite.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have announced an indefinite ceasefire from Saturday if the government allows independent verification.

But Latin America's oldest insurgent movement said it would be called off if they are attacked.

In a statement, President Juan Manuel Santos' government rejected the call for verification but did not explicitly address the other demand for a bilateral ceasefire.

"This must remain clear: the government will continue fulfilling its indeclinable constitutional duty to guarantee and protect the rights of Colombians," its statement said.

The government has repeatedly rejected FARC demands for a truce while the two groups advance in peace talks they have been holding since 2012 in Cuba. The language of Thursday's statement suggested its position had not changed.

The FARC's stance puts the government in an awkward position by leaving the success or failure of the group's offer to end hostilities, in a 50-year conflict that has killed more than 220,000, to the administration's response.

The Santos government statement made it clear that it expects the FARC to go ahead with a ceasefire.

"The government will evaluate the fulfillment of this decision by the FARC. The country neither can nor wishes to repeat past experiences in which announced ceasefires were only partially fulfilled," the statement said.

Santos, who has gambled his political legacy by negotiating with the FARC to bring peace, has insisted that military pressure be maintained on the group while both sides negotiate.

Early on Wednesday and hours before the FARC's ceasefire offer, he tweeted that the government would continue to attack the FARC in its jungle hideouts until war ended.

Thursday's statement welcomed the FARC ceasefire offer nonetheless, calling it a "good start" to de-escalating the conflict. The group exploited a bilateral ceasefire during a previous attempt at peace talks more than a decade ago to expand their fighting force in a demilitarized zone and take captives.

Colombians are sick of war and hopeful the Havana talks will end successfully, but also suspicious because of past failures.

[Source: By Peter Murphy, Reuters, Bogota, 18Dec14]

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