World

Colombian rebel group says it has freed soldier captured in mid-December

Latin America's oldest and strongest rebel group said Friday that it had released a soldier who was captured earlier this month.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said in a statement that it had turned Carlos Becerra Ojeda over to representatives of the International Red Cross and Cuba and Norway, two countries that have hosted peace talks between the rebels and the government since they began in the fall of 2012.

The rebels announced a unilateral cease-fire last week as a goodwill gesture, but the government has rejected a bilateral truce to the more-than-50-year-old conflict, saying it could help the rebels regroup after a decade of heavy battlefield losses.

The peace talks kicked off in Norway in October 2012; subsequent substantive talks have been held in the Cuban capital of Havana.

According to the government, the FARC abducted Becerra earlier this month after he survived a rebel attack north of the southwestern department of Cauca.

Last week, the FARC declared a unilateral cease-fire in an effort to move the peace talks forward, and urged the government to do the same.

But President Juan Manuel Santos, pressured by the military and conservative critics, has long rejected a bilateral truce to the more-than-50-year-old conflict, saying it could give the rebels an opportunity to regroup after a decade of heavy battlefield losses. The FARC is pushing the president to show greater flexibility.

Currently the rebels and the government of the South American country are taking a holiday break from the peace negotiations. They are scheduled to restart the talks again in January to address the issue of reparation for victims of the conflict.

As of now, the two sides have reached partial agreements on three of their six items on the peace agenda: agrarian reform, drug trafficking, and political participation for former rebels.

____

Follow Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ARodriguezAP "