LOS POZOS, Colombia - Colombian FARC rebels
produced a last-minute proposal to save three-year-old peace
talks on the brink of a government deadline on Saturday and
said they were waiting for President Andres Pastrana to accept
or reject it.
After two-days of intensive talks with U.N. envoy James
LeMoyne, the Marxist guerrillas said they sent Pastrana a
14-point blueprint they hoped would persuade him not to order
the army into a demilitarized enclave.
``We are waiting for a decision by the president on the
future of the process of dialogue and negotiation,'' said a
statement released by weary-looking rebel commanders in the
dusty hamlet of Los Pozos in their southern safe haven.
There was no immediate response from Pastrana, who on
Thursday gave LeMoyne until 9:30 p.m. EST to strike a deal with
the 17,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia --
known by the Spanish initials FARC.
Colombian rebel commanders (seated) Antonio Lozada (L), Joaquin Gomez (C) and Raul Reyes, give a press conference after a peace meeting in Los Pozos, January 12, 2002. The rebel commanders said they will send Colombian President Andres Pastrana a 14 point proposal to save the peace process and that they will await his response. (Eliana Aponte/Reuters)
Pastrana had said that if he was not satisfied the rebels
were committed to the peace talks which have dragged on for
three years with little result then he would give them 48 hours
to get out of their enclave before sending troops after them.
The rebel proposal seemed to address the president's main
complaint -- that the FARC must drop its insistence on relaxing
security controls around the Switzerland-sized territory he
granted them at the start of talks in late-1998.
In an attempt to deal with the issue, which had paralyzed
talks for three months, the FARC proposed referring disputes
over roadblocks on the borders of their enclave to a special
They rebels also said that discussion of a cease-fire
should begin straight away -- as Pastrana has insisted.
Other rebel gripes, such as their objections to military
overflights and a government ban on foreigners entering their
territory, were dropped or toned down.
An exhausted LeMoyne said he hoped that Colombia's
38-year-old war, which has claimed 40,000 lives in the past
decade alone, would not escalate.
``I believe both the government and the FARC want peace. It
hasn't been easy. It's still not easy, but I'm still hopeful,''
he said, after the long two days of talks in tropical heat.
The American former New York Times correspondent, who
covered wars in Latin America in the 1980s, called on both
sides to avoid provocative statements or actions.
LeMoyne, who spent Friday night at a FARC base, was in
regular contact with Pastrana throughout the day.
ORDINARY RESIDENTS FEAR FOR THEIR LIVES
The 120,000 mainly poor Colombians who have lived under
FARC rule in this swathe of cattle country and jungle have been
anxiously awaiting the outcome of the last-ditch attempts to
save talks. Fearing for their lives, many local residents said
they would flee the region if negotiations collapsed.
Thousands of troops and tanks have been massing near the
enclave in preparation for a long-planned strike on the rebel
stronghold. The army says FARC has used the enclave as a
massive prison for kidnapping victims and as a base for a
Near Los Pozos, where the FARC has been hosting the peace
talks, residents said they feared brutal retaliation from the
army and outlawed right-wing paramilitary fighters -- who might
accuse residents of being rebel sympathizers -- if talks
``If the army gets here, so will the paramilitaries. They
will wipe out entire families, even grandmothers,'' said Joana,
25, as she listened to the news on a portable radio. Like other
local residents, she did not want her last name used.
Joana, like others, said if talks failed she would abandon
the enclave for fear of her life and those of her three
children as the 38-year-old guerrilla war threatens to
The government has promised to guarantee the safety of the
civilian inhabitants of the demilitarized zone regardless of
what happens. Ordinary people complain that they were not
consulted when the FARC was ceded their territory and that they
are not being consulted now that it might be taken away.
CAR BOMB INJURES 16 AS REBELS TALK
As LeMoyne and the FARC commanders were meeting, a car bomb
exploded next to an army base in the town of Granada, about 30
miles north of the rebel enclave, injuring 16 people, one
seriously, a doctor at the local hospital told Reuters.
It was not clear who planted the bomb, which went off close
to a base where government troops were concentrating in
preparation for the possible push into the FARC-held haven.
Pastrana, who steps down in August, has dedicated his term
in office to striking a deal with the FARC. But he has come
under pressure to get tough with the rebels after failing to
win significant rebel concessions.
If the army retakes the FARC-held land, the rebels are
expected to surrender their handful of scruffy towns and
disappear into thick jungle to wage irregular war.
Most FARC members always have been based outside the zone.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited