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Clock Running Out on Colombian Peace Talks - 2002-01-21


In Colombia, representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, appear to be coming closer to an agreement with government representatives on a timetable for peace talks. But the clock is running down to the midnight or 0500 UTC Monday deadline set by Colombian President Andres Pastrana for reaching an accord.

The Colombian army remains ready to move into the rebel zone if the talks fail.

International observers at the site of the talks, near the village of Los Pozos, in the rebel safe haven, say the FARC leaders have responded to the timetable proposal presented by the government on Thursday. FARC representative Raul Reyes says the rebels have presented their own proposal, which, he says, has many similarities to that of the government.

He says the rebels are also presenting a few new ideas, but that he expects an accord can be reached by later in the day.

But, as night fell over Bogota, there was no news of an accord, and the deadline set by President Pastrana for renewing the rebel safe zone is now approaching. The president granted the 42,000-square-kilometer area in southern Colombia to the FARC in November of 1998 as a condition for beginning peace talks.

If the rebels fail to agree to a timetable for negotiations aimed at producing a cease-fire and humanitarian accords, then President Pastrana has said he will abolish the safe zone and send in the army. Military leaders are said to be in favor of such an action, and have around 12,000 soldiers, backed by tanks and helicopters, on the perimeter of the zone awaiting orders.

For their part, the rebels say that if that happens, they will withdraw from the populated areas of the zone, and will carry out their fight using, "all forms of warfare." Many analysts here in Bogota interpret that to mean the FARC would begin acts of urban terrorism here and in other cities. In recent years, the cities have been relatively immune from rebel attacks, although the FARC has carried out kidnappings and attacks against civilian targets all over the countryside.

Those attacks have continued over the past several days, even as the talks took place at Los Pozos, leading critics of the peace process to denounce the FARC for continuing the war, while talking peace. Some analysts, however, say that FARC commanders may not always have complete control over units operating in the field, and that they may also have a hard time selling any peace accord to the more radical elements within the rebel movement.

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