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DATE=8/10/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=COLOMBIA-PEACE NUMBER=5-44035 BYLINE=BILL RODGERS DATELINE=RIO DE JANEIRO INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: 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 for peace. 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 Verification Commission. ///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 new rules. ///End Act/// 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 compliance. 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. ///End Act/// 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. (SIGNED) NEB/WFR /RAE 10-Aug-1999 13:43 PM EDT (10-Aug-1999 1743 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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