- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

Since the United States approved $1.3 billion in counternarcotics aid for Colombia, guerrilla groups who profit from the drug trade have waged a bloody terror campaign in protest. Even as Colombian government officials and guerrilla leaders sat around a peace table in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday, the bloodshed in Colombia continued unabated.

Since January, when aid to Colombia was approved, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla group, has attacked almost 200 police stations and killed more than 100 police officers. Fighting that began over the weekend in Colombia's northern San Lucas mountains appears to have resulted in the deaths of 60 members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group and 18 renegade, paramilitary fighters. In addition, on Monday 200 FARC terrorists ambushed a police station in the remote southwestern province of Narino, which is rich in opium poppy fields. The FARC gunned down 11 police officers and wounded 17 others.

This summit's context of violence highlights how brutal guerrilla and paramilitary tactics continue to be. Commanders for the FARC, which has effective control of about 40 percent of the country, declined even to attend the summit. But the relatives of 11 people kidnapped by the ELN in the spring of 1999 were there, lobbying for the release of their loved ones. The ELN's chief, Antonio Garcia, gave them little hope, pre-empting the summit by saying that neither the issue of hostages nor a cease-fire would be on the table for discussion.

What the ELN did want to discuss is the 1,500 square-mile territory that Colombian President Andres Pastrana has tentatively agreed to surrender to ELN control. But the agreement is difficult to implement since the area, which is rich in oil, gold and cocaine, is overrun by paramilitary forces.

In addition, local residents are strongly opposed to forfeiting the region to the ELN, since they fear living outside of the government's protection. The government gave the FARC control of a demilitarized zone about one year ago and an ombudsman appointed by Congress has documented 41 disappearances in the territory at the hands of the FARC. The territory was ceded as a land for peace deal, but the FARC now uses the demilitarized zone as a base of illegal operations and has shown no will whatsoever to negotiate a peace.

Former Colombian Police Chief Jose Serrano, who was in Washington last week to receive the DEA's special agent award, described the growing link guerrilla and paramilitary groups have formed with drug traffickers, giving terrorists access to vast resources to buy guns. "After the iron curtain fell, and subversives stopped receiving money from the former Soviet Union or Cuba, the FARC began attacking us when we fumigated [coca] crops," Mr. Serrano told The Washington Times. Mr. Pastrana's plan to achieve peace through counternarcotics initiatives and social projects is therefore "the last chance that we Colombians have. Because if it fails, we will have to make our peace over corpses," he said. No one should want that. Colombia has seen enough suffering.

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