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FARC Shifts Strategy After Peace Talks Collapse - 2002-03-02

With the collapse of Colombia's peace talks and the loss of the rebel-controlled zone, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are shifting their strategy, and will be stepping up terrorist attacks in urban areas. Analysts are debating what the future may hold for the FARC and the prospects for renewing peace talks.

Until February 20, the FARC had been in control since late 1998 of a huge demilitarized zone in southern Colombia, extending 42,000 square kilometers, or the size of Switzerland. President Andres Pastrana, who began his four-year term in 1998, had ceded the territory to the FARC to facilitate the opening of peace talks.

But the talks failed to achieve what the Pastrana government wanted - an end to the 38-year war. Instead the FARC abused the zone, using the vast savannah and junglelands to hold kidnap victims, stage attacks elsewhere in Colombia, and allow drug cultivation and trafficking to flourish.

The guerrillas, Colombia's oldest and largest rebel group, have a Marxist orientation. Yet while the peace talks were under way, some negotiators moderated their discourse. A former banker turned guerrilla commander, Simon Trinidad, once told VOA how the FARC would someday like to see a mixed economy in Colombia. At the same time, he also warned that land should be expropriated, if necessary, to carry out agrarian reform.

Mr. Trinidad said, "The state can buy the land to carry out a true agrarian reform or exproriate it. If this does not happen, he warned, the people will do it through violent means - because land tenancy problems have to be resolved."

Based in the countryside, land reform is one of the main political issues advanced by the FARC. But this kind of rhetoric is outdated in Latin America today. Analyst Sergio Uribe says the FARC statements reflect a mentality that remains from the time the leftist rebel group first emerged.

"From my experience in some regions I see that the ideological orientation which if you look at the type of declarations that were taken out during the last months in the DMZ, I mean it is a 1960's speech, right - they haven't even changed that," said Uribe. "I mean, they haven't modernized... they don't realize it's not the 1900s - it's 2000, it's another century so they're very orthodox in that."

If the FARC's rhetoric alienates Colombians, the rebels' brutality does so even more. Kidnappings, killings, and other acts of violence continued while the peace negotiations were under way - and served to undermine support for the Pastrana government's efforts.

These acts of terrorism are already on the rise. FARC rebels brutally murdered seven civilians in the town of La Macarena - one of five in the demilitarized zone as they retreated from government troops.

The rebels also will be concentrating on terrorist actions in the cities - according to analyst Vicente Torrijos of the University del Rosario, a specialist on the FARC. Traditionally the FARC has been a rural guerrilla group.

Mr. Torrijos said the FARC will develop an urban strategy, changing its tactics from rural actions because they will need new areas to hide. He said they are going to need more resources which they can find in urban areas. All this means, he said, that the rebels are going to react very creatively to the loss of their enclave and that terrorist actions are going to increase.

This new urban strategy is already clear. A transcript of a radio conversation between a guerrilla leader by the name of Romana and another rebel quotes him as saying: "You've got to deliver an urban blow - so the oligarchy feels the war."