Global ecumenical leaders support call for bilateral ceasefire in Colombia

(Photo: REUTERS / Defensoria del Pueblo / Handout via Reuters)Colombian soldier Carlos Fabian Huertas (2nd R) stands near representatives from the Commission of the Ombudsman, the ICRC and the Catholic Church in Arauca July 4, 2013, in this picture provided by the Defensoria del Pueblo. Huertas was kidnapped in Chitaga, Norte de Santander, on May 23 during an attack on a patrol by the ELN guerrillas which killed 10 soldiers.

Local and international Christian leaders have in a letter demanded a bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), urging that peace talks resume.

The 52 years of armed conflict in Colombia have cost many of lives, as well as causing displacements among local communities, they noted in a letter issued from Bogota, Colombia, the World Council of Churches said July 14.

The letter was issued July 6 by the Inter-Ecclesial Dialogue for Peace in Colombia (DIPaz).

It is addressed to the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the government's head negotiator in Havana, Humberto de la Calle, FARC commander Timoleón Jiménez and to the FARC head negotiator, Luciano Marín.

The letter follows recent mutual attacks by both FARC and the government which have brought the peace talks in Havana to a critical stage.

The signatories include leaders of global ecumenical organizations including the World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, as well as representatives of 40 local churches, ecumenical organizations and over a hundred international partners.

"We cannot help but express our sorrow, as Christians and as human beings, in response to the deaths that continue taking place in Colombia, which could have been avoided with an agreement for a bilateral ceasefire," reads the letter.

"The government should change their position from refusing an agreement for a bilateral ceasefire to a position in favour of life and the greater legitimacy of the continued dialogues. The FARC should return to their willingness and decision to maintain a ceasefire," the letter continues.

Georges Lemopoulos, the WCC's acting general secretary, comments: "We want to express solidarity with the Colombian people and accompany them in their search for justice and peace."

"The peace talks between the government and the FARC must bring forth lasting peace with social justice for the Colombian people, something they immensely deserve," he added.

The letter's signatories have also expressed "joy and hope for the advances reached in the dialogues underway in Havana, Cuba, on the topics of comprehensive agricultural development, political participation, and the solution to the drug problem."

It acknowledges the progress made towards de-escalation of the conflict, such as an agreement about removal of land mines and other explosives.

It also recognized agreement on the formation of a Truth Commission; and a report published by the Historic Commission on the Armed Conflict.

"We join in the call made weeks ago by the governments of Cuba and Norway, in their role as guarantors of the conversations, that an agreement be reached for a bilateral ceasefire and end of hostilities, that the accords already reached be preserved, and that dialogue advance on the topics still pending on the agenda," reads the letter.

The churches and organizations involved in DIPaz include the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia, the Mennonite Church of Colombia, Justapaz (a Mennonite organization focused on justice, reconciliation and nonviolent action), Mencoldes (a Mennonite foundation focused on development), the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace, the Baptist University, World Service department of the Lutheran World Federation, and the program of Faith, Economy, Ecology, and Society of the Latin American Council of Churches.

DIPaz engages churches and faith based organizations working for the last two years to contribute effectively towards the peace process of Colombia.

The main areas of work of the DIPaz are reconciliation, non-violent action, truth and justice.

The group works for advocacy inside the churches, with the government, in social sectors and also directly with the peace process between the government and the FARC in Havana, Cuba.

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