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Colombian Government Disappointed in Peace Talk Progress - 2001-10-26

Officials in Colombia say little, if any, progress is being made in peace talks between government and left-wing rebels. They say the guerrillas continue to make demands but offer little in return. And Colombia's government is under increasing pressure, especially from the United States, to crack down on guerrilla terrorists and what U.S. officials call "guerrilla links" with drug dealers.

Colombia's government had hoped negotiations with the country's largest guerrilla group, the FARC, would regain momentum after the government decision last month to allow the rebels to maintain control over a large demilitarized zone.

Instead, the talks have bogged down in accusations and recriminations.

The rebels have demanded the government stop flying planes over the demilitarized zone and reduce the army buildup around the zone's borders. The government has refused. And now, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson, is urging the government to take a tough stand with the rebels.

Ambassador Patterson told local business leaders that the more she sees of the situation in Colombia, the clearer it becomes that FARC guerrillas are now drug traffickers and nothing else. She also suggested the United States would like to extradite members of Colombia's insurgent groups involved in drug trafficking and money laundering to the United States for trial.

Some Colombian politicians voiced concern with the idea. They sympathize with the anti-terrorist objectives, but say they worry about the impact this threat of U.S. extradition might have. Interior Minister Armando Estrada said he believes the extradition threat might put the peace process in jeopardy.

Interior Minister Estrada told local news media that the negotiators will not be able to continue in the same tranquil environment, knowing that this demand from such a powerful country as the United States is hanging over their heads.

The guerrillas responded to the ambassador's suggestion by releasing a statement, denying any links with drug trafficking and declaring their belief that drugs are damaging to society and democracy.