- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Cowardly rebels

The terrorists planting bombs in Colombia are "cowardly men" bent on destruction, the Organization of American States said yesterday.

OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria condemned the militants who killed 12 civilians and injured 60 in bomb explosions Sunday in the provincial capital, Villavicencio. Terrorists planted a car bomb that killed two policemen yesteday and placed bombs in manholes in the capital, Bogota, that injured a young girl.

"This is the handiwork of perverse and cowardly men whose only goal is to use intimidation and barbaric acts to wield power through a criminal enterprise that feeds on drugs, kidnappings, extortion, assassinations and fear," Mr. Gaviria said in a statement.

Although no organization has claimed responsibility for the bombings, Mr. Gaviria blamed "various" guerrilla groups he criticized for rejecting Colombian government peace overtures that would have "integrated [them] into the nation's democracy."

"[The] claims by these agents of violence that they are fighting a political cause are ridiculous," said Mr. Gaviria, formerly president of Colombia. "If in fact they had taken advantage of the countless opportunities Colombians have given them to defend their ideas through democratic means, they would not now be bent on brutally assassinating defenseless men, women and children."

A chance in Cyprus

Nearly three months of face-to-face talks between the leaders of Cyprus' bitterly divided Greek and Turkish communities have produced virtually no public signs of progress, but former President George Vassiliou still sees reason for optimism.

Mr. Vassiliou, the lead negotiator for Cyprus' bid to join the European Union by the end of the year, thinks the EU membership talks have created a dynamic that will lead both Turkish Cypriots and their allies in Turkey to rethink their position.

Although the Greek-Cypriot administration is the internationally recognized government of Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey, insists on equal recognition in a future government of a reunified Cyprus.

Mr. Vassiliou told our correspondent David R. Sands during a Washington visit this week he had detected a "shift" in Turkey's position on the talks.

"When the direct talks began in January, I am sure there were those who thought the negotiations would be a means to delay accession" to the EU, Mr. Vassiliou said. "Now that it is clear that Cyprus' EU bid will go ahead, the other side either has to accept a political solution or take the blame for failure."

Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash have been meeting several times a week since the beginning of the year, seeking to end a bitter 28-year division of the island that has proved a flashpoint in relations between Greece and Turkey.

EU officials have made it increasingly clear in recent days that they will go ahead with an invitation for Cyprus whether a political solution is reached or not.

Mr. Vassiliou said two factors are working in favor of a deal, despite the unfavorable outward signs.

"If the two communities reach an agreement by the end of June, any agreements would be incorporated into the EU accession agreement," he said. "That is like saying that the whole European Union, not just the Cypriot government, will stand behind any promises we make."

Turkey, which hopes one day to join the EU, would find itself in the unpleasant position of having troops stationed within the territory of an existing EU member if Cyprus is admitted without a deal.

Greek Defense Minister Yannos Papantoniou, in a breakfast meeting with reporters yesterday, said a failure in the current Clerides-Denktash talks in the coming months could set the process back years, especially if Cyprus gains EU membership in December.

EU membership for a divided Cyprus would force Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot negotiators to "adapt to new realities," Mr. Papantoniou said.

"I think this is the big chance," he said. "My fear is that if it is not taken, it will be several years before new negotiations can even begin."

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