Colombia's armed forces to maintain offensive against armed groups -president says

A woman hangs a Colombian flag next to the Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Common (FARC) Political party flag at a reintegration camp in Pondores, Colombia August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Colombia's military will keep up offensive operations against illegal armed groups until they demonstrate the will to negotiate for peace, President Gustavo Petro said on Tuesday, after FARC dissidents attacked and killed six soldiers.

An attack by dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who reject a 2016 peace deal with the government, took place in the municipality of Buenos Aires, in Cauca province, an important region for producing coca, the chief ingredient in cocaine.

Three military personnel were killed by FARC dissidents in the same region last weekend.

"The possibility of dialogue today isn't limited by the cessation of military operations. So far we have only talked about the possibility (of a ceasefire), nothing more," Petro said following a meeting with high ranking members of the Colombia's security forces.

Petro is Colombia's first leftist president. He has pledged to establish total peace in the country, to put an end to almost six-decades of armed conflict, which has left hundreds of thousands dead.

Colombia's government recently re-started peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) leftist guerrilla group in Venezuela, and hopes to implement the 2016 agreement with the FARC dissident factions.

"Military action does not cease as long as there is no real will to negotiate," Petro said.

The government will on Wednesday begin peacemaking efforts in Buenaventura, Colombia's violent Pacific port city, where some 1,600 armed youths are involved in drug trafficking.

"It's a process of urban pacification and it has more to do with the procedure of accepting justice, not without a commitment from the state to solve very deep social problems," Petro said, citing high levels of poverty in the city.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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