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DATE=4/20/99 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT NUMBER=2-248378 TITLE=COLOMBIA/PEACE TALKS (L-ONLY) BYLINE=RHODA METCALFE DATELINE=BOGOTA CONTENT= VOICED AT: IN COLOMBIA, GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATORS HAVE RESUMED PRELIMINARY PEACE TALKS WITH THE COUNTRY'S LARGEST REBEL GROUP -- THE REVOLUTIONARY ARMED FORCES OF COLOMBIA, BETTER KNOWN AS THE FARC. BUT DESPITE MAJOR CONCESSIONS BY GOVERNMENT, INCLUDING THE DEMILITARIZATION OF A HUGE REGION IN THE COUNTRYSIDE, THE REBELS HAVE BARELY BUDGED. THE GOVERNMENT WARNS THAT IF THERE IS NO SERIOUS PROGRESS THIS WEEK, THE PRESIDENT MAY SCRAP TALKS AND SEND TROOPS BACK INTO THE DEMILITARIZED ZONE EARLY NEXT MONTH. RHODA METCALFE REPORTS FROM THE COLOMBIAN CAPITAL. ///AMBIENT SOUND OF MAN SPEAKING SPANISH/// TEXT: COLOMBIA'S HIGH COMMISIONER FOR PEACE VICTOR G. RICARDO STATED THAT GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATORS WENT INTO TALKS TUESDAY WITH ONE CLEAR OBJECTIVE. THE IDEA, HE SAID, IS TO GET PAST DISCUSSING WHETHER TO SET AN AGENDA FOR NEGOTIATIONS AND ACTUALLY START SETTING THE AGENDA. HIS COMMENT REFLECTS HOW FRUSTRATED THE GOVERNMENT IS ABOUT THE SLOW PACE OF PEACE TALKS. IT HAS BEEN FIVE MONTHS SINCE THE GOVERNMENT MADE ITS FIRST BIG CONCESSION TO THE FARC -- BY DEMILITARIZING A REGION THE SIZE OF SWITZERLAND -- TO CREATE A NEUTRAL ZONE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE WHERE PEACE TALKS COULD PROGRESS. BUT THERE HAS BEEN NO PROGRESS. REBEL LEADERS HAVE NOT EVEN AGREED TO THE TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION. THE GOVERNMENT IS MOST INTERESTED IN GETTING THE GUERRILLAS TO STOP ACTIVITIES SUCH AS KIDNAPPING AND SUPPORTING DRUG CULTIVATION AND TRAFFICKING. THE TALKS WERE SUSPENDED 3 MONTHS AGO BY THE FARC, FOLLOWING A RASH OF MASSACRES BY RIGHT-WING PARAMILITARY GROUPS. THE REBEL LEADERS REFUSED TO CONTINUE NEGOTIATING UNTIL THE GOVERNMENT TOOK CLEAR STEPS TO SUPPRESS PARAMILITARY SQUADS AND TO PUNISH COLOMBIAN ARMY OFFICIALS WHO SUPPORT THE RIGHT-WING GROUPS. IN THE LEAD-UP TO THIS WEEK'S TALKS, THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT DID SACK TWO TOP GENERALS AND THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT HAS ARRESTED SEVERAL PARAMILITARY LEADERS. ///SPANISH ACT OF REYES//// FARC NEGOTIATOR RAUL REYES CAME OUT OF TUESDAY'S MEETING AND TOLD LOCAL MEDIA THAT WEDNESDAY GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATORS WILL HAND OVER A REPORT ON THE MEASURES THE GOVERNMENT HAS TAKEN AGAINST THE PARAMILITARIES. MR. REYES SAID THAT IF THE FARC DECIDES THE GOVERNMENT'S DONE ENOUGH, THEN THE REBELS WILL RESUME FULL NEGOTIATIONS. BUT HE GAVE NO TIME LINE FOR MAKING THAT DECISION. AND TIME IS RUNNING OUT. IF THE REBELS ARE NOT BACK TO FULL NEGOTIATIONS BY MAY SEVENTH, PRESIDENT PASTRANA HAS THREATENED TO END THE TALKS AND SEND TROOPS BACK INTO THE DEMILITARIZED ZONE. ///REST OPT/// AND HE WOULD HAVE PUBLIC OPINION ON HIS SIDE. A RECENT PUBLIC OPINION POLL SHOWS THE COLOMBIAN PEOPLE HAVE LOST FAITH IN THE PROCESS AND IN THE GUERRILLA'S GOOD WILL. THE MURDER OF THREE AMERICANS BY THE FARC LAST MONTH SHOCKED THE COLOMBIAN PUBLIC -- AND MADE MANY QUESTION WHETHER THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NEGOTIATE WITH THEM. OUTSIDE COLOMBIA, A BLOCK OF U-S POLITICIANS HAS ALSO CALLED ON PRESIDENT PASTRANA TO SEVER NEGOTIATIONS. AND THERE ARE INDICATIONS THAT THE GOVERNMENT MAY BE PREPARING FOR THE WAR TO HEAT UP IF THE TALKS BREAK DOWN. THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT HAS JUST AGREED TO DOUBLE THE MILITARY BUDGET. (SIGNED) NEB/RM/WFR 20-Apr-99 7:51 PM EDT (2351 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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