Colombia's Golfo crime gang declares unilateral ceasefire

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's notorious Golfo Clan crime gang, one of the country's most violent, declared a ceasefire on Wednesday and said it was committed to reaching a surrender deal with the government.

The group, also known the Usuga Clan and the Autodefensas Gaitanistas, is accused of operating drug trafficking routes in partnership with Mexican cartels and taking part in illegal gold mining.

The gang said in September it was willing to surrender to the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, which responded that it would not negotiate with the group because members are criminals and not politically motivated rebels like the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"Despite that, at the moment there is not a law for collective surrender...we remain committed to efforts which will permit us to contribute to a full peace," the group said in a statement.

"From this Christmas, when hearts are filed with hope for a better country, Colombians deserve the opportunity, for the first time in history, to go forward without the anxiety of the conflict."

The ceasefire begins immediately, the group added, inviting civil society and the Catholic church to verify their compliance. The statement called for remaining leftist rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN) and other gangs to join them in the halt to hostilities in areas where the groups clash.

The ELN and the government began their first ever bilateral ceasefire in October, part of peace talks taking place in Ecuador. The ceasefire is set to run through Jan. 9 and may be extended.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Michael Perry)

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