Colombia's Santos presses for peace as FARC death toll climbs

Colombian commanders from the FARC-EP leftist guerrillas, Ivan Marquez (L) and Pastor Alape (C), arrive at the Convention Palace in Havana for peace talks with the Colombian government, on May 21, 2015 (AFP Photo/Yamil Lage) (AFP/File)

Bogota (AFP) - The president of Colombia called for accelerated peace negotiations with FARC guerrillas, just as eight rebels were killed in an escalating government offensive.

Juan Manuel Santos made the announcement amid a push by the Colombian army that began Thursday with a government air strike killing 26 guerrillas in the southwestern Cauca department.

Saturday's deaths brought the offensive's total fatalities to 34 in two days.

The operation against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the northern municipality of Segovia also wounded two more fighters, the military said.

Yet Santos said he wanted an end to the bloodshed.

"We have to make decisions to stop this war as soon as possible and I'm ready to accelerate negotiations to reach a final and definitive bilateral ceasefire as quickly as possible," he said, a day after the FARC suspended their six-month unilateral ceasefire.

Government talks under way with the FARC in Havana have carried on for a full year "without any substantial advance," he warned.

"People want to see that we can move forward so that they can have faith that we can achieve peace."

The peace talks between the government and the FARC, which began in 2012, have been continually derailed by attacks from both sides.

In December, the FARC announced a ceasefire, raising hopes that the negotiations were approaching a breakthrough, but tensions have only spiraled since.

On Friday, the FARC suspended their ceasefire in response to the deadly air strike, while calling for continued dialogue with the government and for both sides to lay down their arms.

The Colombian conflict has killed some 220,000 people and uprooted five million since the Marxist-inspired FARC was founded in 1964.