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Cease-Fire Talks Aimed at Salvaging Colombian Peace Process - 2001-10-06

The Colombian government and the country's largest rebel group have announced plans to hold immediate cease-fire talks, a move aimed at salvaging Colombia's faltering peace process. The announcement comes just days before the expiration of a deadline to renewing the guerrilla safe-haven in southern Colombia.

The agreement between government negotiators and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, was reached Friday after more than a day of intensive talks held in the guerrilla enclave in southern Colombia.

In a nine-point accord, the two sides agreed to immediately launch discussions on a cease-fire. For their part, the rebels agreed to stop roadside kidnappings known as "miracle fishing", which is one of the ways the FARC raises money to finance its fight against the government. Under Friday's accord, the FARC pledged to notify its units throughout the country to stop the practice.

It was the kidnap and murder of former Culture Minister Consuelo Araujo almost a week ago that plunged the peace process into its worst crisis since negotiations began more than two years ago. Outrage over the murder led to mounting calls on President Andres Pastrana not to renew the mandate for the guerrilla-controlled demilitarized zone that was set up in late 1998 as a pre-condition for holding peace talks.

The FARC has been using the zone to hold kidnap victims, organize attacks against government troops, and raise revenue from taxing the drug trade.

Mr. Pastrana was to decide by next Tuesday whether to maintain the zone or let the army retake control over the Switzerland-sized enclave, which would mean an end to the peace talks.

But with Friday's accord, it now appears likely that the zone, and the peace process, will be maintained. Appearing before reporters, the government's chief peace negotiator, Camilo Gomez, said Friday's agreement will mark what he called a "new direction" in the peace negotiations. Mr. Gomez was flanked by senior FARC spokesman Raul Reyes as he read the nine-point accord before television cameras.

Colombia's 37-year civil war pits leftist rebels from the FARC and a second, smaller guerrilla insurgency against government troops and right-wing paramilitary groups. Some 3,500 people are killed every year in the fighting.