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As Negotiation Deadline Draws Near, Colombians Hope for Peace - 2002-01-19


In Colombia, talks between government negotiators and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, continue as the hours tick down towards Sunday's deadline.

President Andres Pastrana has said that unless the talks produce a timetable for negotiating a cease-fire and other accords by Sunday, he will not renew the rebel safe zone and will send the army in to retake it. Most Colombians are hoping that another breakdown in the process will be avoided.

Opinions may vary about many issues here, but public surveys leave no doubt that the vast majority of Colombians would like to see an end to their nation's 38-year war. That is why people here are waiting anxiously for whatever news comes out of the rural area in southern Colombia where the two sides are meeting with the assistance of international observers.

Government negotiators presented the time-table proposal Thursday and rebel representatives are studying it.

Peace proponent and political analyst Daniel Garcia Pena believes the talks will produce the firm schedule for reaching accords that the president has demanded. In a VOA interview, he recalled the crisis last week, in which the process broke down temporarily, shows that both sides are committed to finding agreement. "Despite the difficulties," he said, "the decision on the part of both parties was to find the ways to move forward and I think this indicates that neither of the two sides is really interested in breaking off the process."

For Mr. Garcia Pena, the timetable, committing both sides to reaching agreement by specific dates, is important for moving the process forward. What makes creating a timetable difficult, he says, is that each side has a different set of priorities when it comes to reaching accords.

"The government is urging and demanding [attention to] issues like a cease fire and issues that have to do with kidnapping, while the guerrillas are insisting on issues that have to do with unemployment and social and economic aspects [matters]," said Mr. Garcia Pena. "But this is natural in any negotiation." According to the Colombian political analyst, another complicating factor is the disagreement that exists over certain issues both within the Pastrana government and within the rebel ranks.

"Of course, the next few days will continue to be very tense," said Mr. Garcia Pena. "There is an ongoing process within each of the parties. We tend to think of negotiations as being when the two sides meet, but often the hardest and most complex part of a negotiation is what happens within each of the parties when they leave the table and go back home and try to agree amongst themselves."

Mr. Garcia Pena says the rebel decision to drop complaints about government security measures around their zone earlier this week was an unprecedented move by the FARC that no doubt caused some friction within. But, he says, it is also a sign that FARC leaders are willing to move forward with the peace process in spite of internal disputes and that, he says, bodes well for the future of the process.

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