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Archive for Saturday, February 10, 2001

Colombia, rebels to resume peace talks

February 10, 2001

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— President Andres Pastrana emerged from the heart of guerrilla territory Friday with an agreement from the leader of Colombia's largest rebel army to resume formal peace talks.

"Today, the peace process has come back to life," Pastrana proclaimed in a joint press conference with rebel chief Manuel Marulanda after their two-day meeting in the humid and rainy savannahs of southern Colombia.

But the 13-point accord was unlikely to clear the way for immediate relief from the bloodletting in this South American country. About 3,000 people are killed each year in the war, now in its 37th year, which pits two rebel groups against the army and a right-wing paramilitary group.

A statement signed by Pastrana and the 70-year-old leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said formal peace talks will resume on Wednesday in this rebel-held village, located in a safe haven which Pastrana ceded to the FARC two years ago.

The FARC had walked away from peace talks in November because it maintained the government had not severed its links with the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, which is massacring suspected rebel supporters.

"The national government and the FARC ratify their will to continue the peace process that seeks a solution to the conflict by the route of dialogue and negotiation," said the communique, which was signed by both Pastrana and Marulanda and read by their aides in a live national TV broadcast from Los Pozos.

The parties agreed that the peace commission would "resume its tasks on Feb. 14 ... and begin to discuss a cease-fire and cessation of hostilities."

The statement also said both sides would speed up agreement for a humanitarian exchange of sick rebels and security forces being held captive.

"Concrete elements came from this meeting," Marulanda said at the joint press conference.

Hundreds of armed rebels clad in combat fatigues and wearing black berets, and sixty members of Pastrana's police security detail were at the summit, which provided a rare chance for combatants from the warring sides to work together in providing security for their leaders.

Pastrana even spent Thursday night in an abandoned army base in the safe haven in his quest to reach substantive agreements with Marulanda. He departed in the evening for the capital, Bogota.

The FARC agreed to resume peace talks, even though it received a watered-down pledge from Pastrana to "advance discussions about mechanisms to end paramilitarism and diminish the intensity of the conflict," according to the joint statement.

The communique said the two sides would name a panel of respected Colombians to offer recommendations on ways to curb rightist violence as well as rebel kidnappings and child recruiting.

It was the third face-to-face encounter between Pastrana and Marulanda. And just the sight of Pastrana and Marulanda exchanging warm embraces and engaging in what they termed productive conversations seemed to breathe new life into the peace process which the two men started two years ago.

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