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Peace Talks in Colombia May Collapse - 2001-10-02

Colombian President Andres Pastrana lead a high-profile delegation to the Caribbean coast Monday for the funeral of a former minister who was apparently murdered by leftist rebels. The killing has convulsed his nation, and may have dire consequences for Colombia's stalled peace process.

Magistrates, cabinet members and police chiefs all joined the president as he attended the funeral of Consuelo Araujo, a former cultural minister and wife to Colombia's inspector general. Ms. Araujo had been kidnapped a week earlier at a rebel roadblock. Her body, according to authorities, was found last Saturday by rescue teams closing in on the captors. She was found with two bullet wounds in her head.

On hearing the news, mourners took to the streets of her native Valledupar with white candles and pink bougainvillea - her favorite flower.

The government has been in peace talks with the largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, for three years. But negotiations have been fruitless so far, and for many, Ms. Araujo's murder was the last straw.

Several top politicians have urged President Pastrana to walk away from the peace table. Others have demanded the rebels should make concession, such as agree to a temporary cease-fire, if talks were to continue.

Either way, the president will have to decide soon. On October 6 , the term will expire on a southern safe haven ceded to the FARC in order to get the talks going. If Pastrana renews the term of the zone, Colombia's peace process may continue to inch forward. If he sends in the military to take it back, talks will almost certainly collapse.