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Colombia's FARC Deny 'Terrorist' Label Imposed by US
Published on Thursday, November 8, 2001 by the Inter Press Service
Colombia's FARC Deny 'Terrorist' Label Imposed by US
by Yadira Ferrer
BOGOTA - The insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in statements made Wednesday by one of the guerrilla group's top leaders, rejected their inclusion on the list of international terrorist groups drawn up by the United States.

Rebel commander Raúl Reyes said this classification ''forms part of the campaign the (US) government of George W. Bush has launched to discredit'' the FARC, and may serve as a pretext for direct US intervention in Colombia's internal armed conflict.

One cannot compare the Colombian situation, ''based either on its origins or its characteristics, with what is occurring between Palestine and Israel, in Afghanistan, in Northern Ireland and in Spain,'' said Reyes.

The guerrilla leader, who also serves on the three-member panel for peace dialogue with the Andrés Pastrana government, thus responded to the decision in Washington to equate the leftist FARC, which is estimated to have some 15,000 combatants, with irregular armed groups in other countries.

His statement coincided with Pastrana's departure for the United States to take part in the United Nations General Assembly and to meet with Bush.

The list of 30 terrorist groups drawn up by the US State Department also includes the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia's second insurgent group (with some 5,000 guerrillas), and the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), believed to number around 8,000 combatants.

The list has taken on new significance since the Sep 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, particularly in light of the US-led military strikes against Afghanistan that have been ongoing since Oct 7.

Local analysts agree that the presence of the three irregular armed organizations makes Colombia especially vulnerable in the context of the global war on terrorism declared by the United States.

Washington's position was reaffirmed by the US ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson, during two public forums held in October, and she stated that her government will seek the extradition of guerrillas and paramilitaries who involved with drug traffickers.

Furthermore, the British ambassador in Bogotá, Thomas Joseph Duggin, said Tuesday in the capital that both the FARC and the ELN ''are terrorists and have ties with similar international organizations,'' alluding to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland.

Though he has been careful not to directly characterize the FARC as terrorists, President Pastrana said Tuesday that organizations which cultivate terror through car bombs, massacres, assassinations and kidnappings'' deserve to be referred to as such.

He appealed to the FARC to take advantage of the opportunity now in their hands to give new impetus to the peace talks with his government, negotiations that have reached a critical moment, according to political observers.

Pastrana added that the Colombian people hope that ''those few who insist on the armed route... will abandon violent actions against the civilian population, will break ties with the insidious drug trade and that they will finally follow the path of democracy.''

The peace process with the FARC has been at a standstill since Oct 17, when the rebels announced new demands for continuing the dialogue. They came in response to the control measures the government implemented as a condition for extending the time period for the demilitarized zone in the Colombian southeast where the talks are held.

The government beefed up military presence around the Switzerland-sized area held by the FARC. Pastrana has long been under pressure from numerous political and civil society groups that accuse the rebels of using the demilitarized zone to do business with drug traffickers and hide their kidnap victims, and of abusing area residents' human rights.

Marco Romero, professor of law and political science at the state-run National University, said in comments to IPS that the US declaration categorizing the FARC as a terrorist organization could have ''very complicated repercussions for the peace process.''

''If the United States is talking about extraditing members of terrorist groups, it means that at any moment the (Colombian armed forces) could try to take away a rebel leader just to have results to show the public,'' he said.

Other experts maintain that Pastrana's appeal is intended as a wake-up call for the guerrillas to demonstrate greater political will to move forward with the negotiations that began in 1999.

Copyright © 2001 IPS-Inter Press Service


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