Colombia's largest rebel group and the government have agreed to a 22-day holiday cease-fire, the first such truce in more than a decade.
The government-proposed cease-fire, which began at midnight Sunday and is to end Jan. 10, comes after 10 days of fierce fighting between the government and rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Authorities said more than 230 guerrillas and military personnel were killed, including nine soldiers and three rebels in attacks just hours before the cease-fire began.
In announcing the halt to hostilities, rebel leader Raul Reyes said the decision illustrates the rebels' "indisputable willingness to search for peace."
The truce is the first since peace talks opened in January. Negotiations have stalled twice, but today's announcement brought some relief to the troubled efforts to end the three-decade conflict.
"I hope this is the beginning of a change in attitude that humanizes the conflict and facilitates dialogue," President Andres Pastrana said at a military ceremony today in Bogota, the capital.
Pastrana also called on rebels of the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) and right-wing paramilitary forces to accept his proposal to stop fighting. The government and the ELN are said to be close to beginning talks.
But the guerrillas' rival paramilitary groups have shown little sign of slowing their activities. During December, right-wing groups have killed nearly 30 people whom they suspect of having ties to the guerrillas.
The FARC last agreed to a cease-fire in 1984, when they began peace talks with President Belisario Betancur. The agreement was marred by the guerrillas' insistence on keeping their weapons. The cease-fire and the peace process broke down 18 months later.
Despite today's FARC announcement, some officials tempered their enthusiasm.
"Until we see it, we won't believe it," said Gen. Fernando Tapias, commander of Colombia's armed forces.
The military has criticized the FARC for using territory where peace talks are being held to stockpile weapons and launch attacks on army and police garrisons.
Word of the truce came a day after the army said it was sending out 100,000 cards to rebels wishing them a merry Christmas and urging them to surrender.