Peace negotiators for Colombia's largest rebel group announced an indefinite unilateral cease-fire Wednesday, saying guerrillas will refrain from staging attacks as long as they aren't targeted by the U.S.-backed military.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) made the announcement in Cuba at the end of another round of peace talks aimed at ending Latin America's longest insurgency.
In its statement the FARC expressed the hope that the cease-fire, beginning at midnight Dec. 20, would "transform into an armistice" and said it would seek the support of several Latin American nations and the International Red Cross to verify its enforcement.
Although the FARC has declared cease-fires before, around Christmas and elections, this would be the first time it has offered to indefinitely lay down its weapons nationwide since the 1980s.
It remains to be seen whether the government will respond in kind. In two years of talks, President Juan Manuel Santos' government has steadfastly refused to agree to a truce, fearing the rebels would use the opportunity to rearm, as they have before.
Still, the number of rebel attacks has dwindled notably since 2012, a sign to many analysts that the FARC is negotiating in earnest and that an end to a half-century of fighting is within reach.
The two sides have already reached agreements on agrarian reform, political participation for the FARC and how to jointly combat illicit drugs in Colombia, which had long been, until last year, the world's largest cocaine producer.
But some of the thorniest issues remain unresolved, including how the FARC will lay down its arms and whether commanders will face prosecution for atrocities and drug trafficking.
Those concerns prompted thousands of Colombians, led by powerful former President Alvaro Uribe, to march over the weekend in the capital, Bogotá, and other cities to reject possible amnesty for rebel leaders and demand that the government hold them accountable for mass killings, kidnapping and drug trafficking.
Uribe, whose conservative government launched the military offensive credited with pushing the FARC deeper into the jungle, on Wednesday called it a form of blackmail for the guerrillas to condition a cease-fire on the government's refraining from attacks.
In November the talks were briefly suspended after the FARC took hostage a Colombian general and two other people in a remote part of the country.
The Associated Press