In Colombia, government negotiators and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, continued their meetings on Thursday. They are seeking a timetable for talks aimed at producing a cease fire and humanitarian accords. The talks may prevent an escalation in the 38-year war, but there is little expectation that they will end the nation's violence any time soon.
In a rural area in southern Colombia Thursday the talks aimed at coming up with a viable program and schedule for reaching basic accords continued. Colombia's Peace Commissioner, Camilo Gomez, expressed optimism, but said little else as he went to meet with FARC representatives Raul Reyes and Joaquin Gomez. Also on hand were representatives from the United Nations, the Catholic Church and foreign embassies supporting the process.
Colombian President Andres Pastrana has given the rebels until Sunday to agree to a basic schedule for talks aimed at producing a cease fire and an end to kidnapping and other attacks on civilians. If the talks fail, he says he will not renew the Switzerland-size rebel safe haven and will send in the army to retake the area.
But even as the talks go on, guerrilla operations are continuing in various other parts of the country. In the early morning hours Thursday, rebels blew up a power pylon just south of Bogota. This followed the kidnapping of seven people and several assaults on towns and infrastructure carried out by the FARC on Wednesday.
Colombian army General Reinaldo Castellanos condemned the rebels for what he calls acts of terrorism.
He said these actions show the true face of the FARC even as they engage in peace talks.
Business leaders here in Bogota have also been putting pressure on the government to get tough with the guerrillas and have called on the president to cancel the safe zone if the rebels continue to engage in kidnappings. But some observers suggest it may not be that easy to end the cycle of violence. They say the recent attacks, occurring just as rebel leaders began meeting with government representatives for the first time in three months, could indicate fissures with the FARC.
Some analysts suggest that there may be rogue elements operating somewhat independently of the FARC leadership, while others see possible ideological disagreements within the rebel movement. Added to these concerns is the presence of other violent players in Colombia, including another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, as well as rightwing paramilitaries, drug traffickers and common criminals.
An agreement in the next few days that would preserve the safe haven for the FARC would prevent a major escalation. But many observers here believe it will take more than a few accords with FARC leaders to bring a general climate of peace to the countryside.