DATELINE=RIO DE JANEIRO
Intro: Colombian President Andres Pastrana has again
called on the country's main leftist-guerrilla group
to open peace talks to end more than 35-years of
fighting. But as Correspondent Bill Rodgers reports
from our South American bureau, the two sides appear
to be far from sitting down at the negotiating table.
Text: President Pastrana made the appeal late Monday
in a nationwide speech summarizing his first year in
office. Mr. Pastrana said the doors are open for
peace and reconciliation. He called for the rebels to
find a formula to allow both sides to open peace
talks. He said -- I want to persevere in the search
His appeal was aimed principally at the leftist
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC -- the
country's largest guerrilla group. Last year, Mr.
Pastrana agreed to demilitarize a large swath of
territory in southern Colombia for use by the FARC --
as a precondition for opening talks. But despite
initial meetings in January and April, formal peace
talks have yet to open.
A leading Colombian expert on the FARC, Alfredo Rangel
Suarez, believes the prospects for peace are still far
off. Mr. Rangel, who has written a number of books
about the guerrilla conflict, tells V-O-A both sides
have reached an impasse over the establishment of a
///Rangel Spanish Act///
(Spanish) There is a disagreement between both
sides over how to monitor conditions in the
demilitarized zone. For the FARC, the rules of
the game have already been established, and they
will not accept any change in those rules. For
the government -- recent events such as extra-
judicial executions in the zone, kidnappings,
and extortions, and complaints by the civilian
population in the zone -- oblige it to revisit
the issue of the demilitarized zone, and set up
Both sides have dug in their heels over the issue.
President Pastrana's government has said it cannot
hold peace talks without an International Verification
Commission. It says a commission is needed to monitor
the conduct of the guerrillas in the 42-thousand-
square-kilometer demilitarized zone.
But the FARC argues setting up such a body was never
part of the original agreement establishing the zone.
The rebels say a verification commission is needed
only after peace accords are reached so it can monitor
In the meantime, the conflict continues -- with bloody
clashes taking place weekly in different parts of the
country. Last month, FARC guerrillas staged a raid on
the outskirts of Bogota -- an event widely publicized
because such attacks are so unusual.
Mr. Rangel predicts fighting will intensify in the
months ahead, especially since there is no cease-fire
agreement. As in El Salvador in the last years of its
civil war, Mr. Rangel believes guerrillas in Colombia
are preparing for major confrontations with the army,
even as the two sides discuss peace.
///Rangel Spanish Act///
I think we should not be fooled by this, I think
the FARC is preparing for war, and for a
significant increase in the fighting. It is
hoping to increase the size of its force,
perhaps doubling it in the years ahead. It is
now recruiting more members throughout the
country, and buying more weapons. All these are
signs that it is preparing for major
confrontations with the army.
With the prospect of possibly more fighting ahead,
President Pastrana's appeal for opening peace talks
gains more urgency. In anticipation of difficult
times ahead, he urged Colombians to persevere in what
he called the -- hard but hoped for search for peace.
10-Aug-1999 13:43 PM EDT (10-Aug-1999 1743 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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