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SLUG: 2-285333 Colombia negotiation update (L-only)









INTRO: With the assistance of international observers, Colombian government negotiators and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC met on Wednesday. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Bogota, as the first encounter in more than three months took place in the rebels' safe zone, the fighting continued elsewhere.

TEXT: With the assistance of United Nations envoy James LeMoyne and other international observers, the first meeting took place near Los Pozos in the southern part of the rebel safe haven. This first, brief meeting was focused mainly on procedural matters, but both sides say it went well.

Government Peace Commissioner Camilo Gomez expresses satisfaction with the first encounter of the renewed peace process.

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He says it was a cordial meeting in which the two sides began to exchange views and that this will continue in the next meeting on Thursday.

FARC spokesman Raul Reyes also calls the encounter cordial.

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He says the meeting took place in an atmosphere of cordiality and an attempt to find areas of agreement.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in several areas outside the zone and there was a report from northern Colombia of an apparent kidnapping. Witnesses in the coastal area where the incident occurred say 15 armed guerrillas took away seven tourists who were said to be from the city of Cali. Armed Forces spokesmen described the action as an act of terrorism carried out by the FARC. Business leaders here in Bogota also condemned what they say is the use of the safe zone by the rebels to carry out kidnappings, drug trafficking and other crimes. The business leaders say President Andres Pastrana should not renew the safe zone for the rebels if they fail to pledge not to continue using the zone for such actions.

The current extension granted by the president expires on Sunday and Mr. Pastrana has said he will only renew it if the current encouter produce a specific agenda for talks to produce humanitarian accords. These would include a cease fire and a pledge by the rebels not to carry out any more kidnappings or attacks on civilians. In a speech Monday, President Pastrana warned the FARC that he will send the army into the zone if the talks fail and the safe haven is abolished. There are some 12 thousand Colombian Armed Forces troops on the periphery of the zone, backed by helicopters and tanks, poised to carry out that operation if the order comes down to them. (signed)


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