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Colombia Truce Talks Collapse - 2002-05-31

Colombia says truce talks with the nation's second largest guerrilla group have collapsed. The Colombian government is blaming the guerrillas for undermining the talks.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana Friday blamed the leftist group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, for the breakdown in talks - saying the guerrilla group refused to sign a proposed accord for reducing the conflict.

"Once again, when we were near to signing an accord, the ELN changed its mind and decided this week not to sign the document that both sides had drafted," he said. Mr. Pastrana went on to say he will make no further effort to negotiate with the ELN and will leave the matter to the next President of Colombia.

Earlier, government peace negotiator Camilo Gomez said the ELN had made what he called "unrealistic demands" such as financing a six-month cease-fire with $40 million. Mr. Gomez said the government would never accept such a proposal. He also said the two sides were unable to agree on how the ELN would demobilize.

The ELN has an estimated 4,000 combatants - and is much smaller than the country's main leftist rebel group, the FARC which has some 17,000 fighters. The Pastrana government has been holding peace talks with the ELN in Havana since last year.

Friday's announcement brings an end to President Pastrana's hopes that he would be able to negotiate a truce with Colombia's leftist rebels during his four-year term. Peace talks with the FARC were suspended in February.

President-elect Alvaro Uribe, who takes office in August, has promised a harder-line against the guerrillas on the battlefield as part of efforts to end the country's four-decade old civil war.