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Colombia Rebel Negotiations Continue - 2002-01-16


With the assistance of international observers, Colombian government negotiators and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are meeting to discuss peace. The primary focus of the talks is to establish the groundwork for accords and prevent an escalation of the 38-year conflict.

The meeting is taking place at San Vicente del Caguan, in the rebel safe zone in southern Colombia. On hand are FARC leaders as well as Colombian Peace Commissioner Camilo Gomez. United Nations representative James LeMoyne, who played a crucial role in getting the two sides together, is also present along with representatives of the Catholic Church and foreign nations supporting the peace process.

Ambassadors from Canada and Sweden are attending this first meeting. French ambassador Daniel Parfait, who serves as spokesman for the 10 so-called Friend Nations, says international support for the process will continue throughout the week.

He says the ambassadors from the 10 nations will continue doing what they have done until now, which is to facilitate and accompany the peace process.

The French ambassador says, however, that, in the end, it is the Colombians themselves who must solve the problems and establish a lasting peace.

The other nations involved in supporting the negotiations are Cuba, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and Venezuela.

For his part, James LeMoyne has reiterated the strong backing he has from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in finding a peaceful solution to the Colombian conflict. He has also called on both sides to refrain from any actions that could destabilize the fragile negotiations.

But the war that has claims more than 3,000 lives a year in this country goes on in spite of the renewed dialogue. On Tuesday, the FARC attacked several towns, including one only 50 kilometers south of Bogota. The rebels also used explosives to topple electric power pylons in two other areas.

Analysts say such fighting is likely to continue until a cease-fire agreement is reached. What is expected from the current talks is a schedule to negotiate a cease-fire as well as accords aimed at ending rebel kidnappings and attacks on civilians.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana says that if a firm plan for negotiating these issues does not emerge by Sunday, he will not renew the rebel safe haven. He says he then will send in army troops to reoccupy the area he granted to the FARC more than three years ago as an incentive to start negotiations.

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