COCHABAMBA, Bolivia - Socialist President Evo Morales and Bolivia's autonomy-seeking opposition governors began negotiating Thursday to try to defuse a violent political crisis that has left at least 18 people dead.
The talks being monitored by observers from the Organization of American States and United Nations got under way in Cochabamba amid tight security measures with zero ceremonial pomp.
Facilitators for the talks include the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Roman Catholic church, European Union and the United Nations, officials sources said.
Bolivia's enduring political conflict blew up into deadly street violence last week as Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, struggled to assert his authority over the eastern half of his country.
Tuesday's deal on launching negotiations requires anti-Morales protesters to cede control of government buildings and gas pipeline installations, and sets out a return to order and an impartial inquiry into the Pando massacre, the government said.
Rival factions agreed to avoid discussing a draft constitution, which Morales is seeking to rewrite along socialist lines, during the talks.
The governors are also seeking for Morales to abandon land reforms and recognize their ambitions for autonomy.
Dialogue froze between the two sides some eight months ago, and violence has once again flared in recent weeks in the divided country, the poorest in South America.
Bolivia's social and political conflict pits the impoverished indigenous majority of the Andean highlands against a more ethnically mixed and relatively prosperous eastern lowlands, where natural gas reserves are located.