Published on Wednesday, August 23, 2000 by Agence France Presse
Rebel Ceasefire Offer In Colombia Founders Ahead Of Clinton's Visit
BOGOTA - Prospects of a ceasefire agreement with leftist rebels collapsed only days ahead of a visit to Colombia by US President Bill Clinton, which the rebels brand as cynical and "unwanted."

Colombian Armed Forces Commander, General Fernando Tapias, on Tuesday rejected a ceasefire proposal by a rebel leader, saying it did not include an end to kidnappings and lacked a promise to keep civilians out of the clashes.

This impasse in the on-again-off-again peace negotiations the government has been conducting with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's oldest and largest rebel group, coincided with a FARC statement Tuesday criticizing Clinton's trip to Colombia.

"Clinton's visit is absolutely unwanted, cynical," a FARC spokesman told reporters Tuesday. He called on Colombians to take to the streets and reject "the attitude of this leader of an empire, who comes here to fan the flames of war for electoral purposes."

The spokesman, who identified himself as FARC commander Ivan Rios, was referring to the November 7 presidential elections, in which Clinton's Vice President Al Gore will square off against Republican George. W. Bush.

"What do we care about the American elections?" said Rios.

Another FARC spokesman said there would be "no guerrilla action" to reject Clinton's visit, but stressed that his visit was "unwelcome in Colombia."

Despite such assurances, security measures at the Caribbean port city of Cartagena, where Clinton will stay for 10 hours and meet with Colombian President Andres Pastrana, have been the topmost concern of Colombian and US security agencies.

Clinton is expected to show US support for Pastrana's 7.5 billion dollar initiative to fight drug trafficking and quell rebel violence in Colombia.

The initiative includes a controversial 1.3 billion dollar aid package for Colombia that was cleared by Clinton late Tuesday even though it failed to meet some human rights conditions set by the US Congress.

Human rights activists protest against the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, outside a military air base in Quito, Friday Aug. 18, 2000. Albright is on a tour of Latin America countries seeking support for a U.S. drug-fighting effort in Colombia that has prompted regional concern. (AP Photo/Patricio Realpe)
The US aid package, to be used by Colombia to train and equip its military and police force, has been harshly criticized by human rights groups and the FARC, which claims it will only lead to more violence in Colombia and will push drug traffickers to set up shop in Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

The rejected FARC ceasefire proposal, which Tapias said only addressed temporarily halting military actions, followed a FARC statement that the group was ready to sign an accord "in two days" if Pastrana accepted its truce conditions.

Both the rebels and officials exchanged ceasefire proposals on July 3 and agreed to consider them separately for a month. Since then, there has been no official pronouncement on the rebels' plan.

The 12,000-strong FARC has clashed with the government and right-wing paramilitaries since 1964. More than 120,000 people have been killed and some two million people displaced in the ongoing civil war.

The ceasefire setback also coincided with an announcement Monday by Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori of a high-profile crackdown of an international gun-running network that he said showed Colombian rebels were still arming themselves despite their peace overtures.

Fujimori's said his administration had broken up the network that sent thousands of Russian-made assault rifles to the FARC by way of Jordan and Peru.

The ringleader, a retired Peruvian army officer, and six of his cohorts were under arrest while two other associates, a Spanish-born US national and French-born Spanish citizen, were on the run, Fujimori said.

The Peruvian president's proud announcement came pointedly on the heels of a Latin America tour by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that did not include Peru, and was seen as signalling Peru's intention to be considered an important partner in efforts to improve regional security.

The United States on Tuesday offered faint praise for Peru's crackdown, saying the bust was "positive" but did not obviate deep concerns over Fujimori's commitment to democracy.

Copyright 2000 AFP