- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

From combined dispatches
BOGOTA, Colombia Colombia's government yesterday ended 3-year-old peace talks with FARC rebels and said it was giving the Marxist guerrillas 48 hours to vacate a demilitarized zone in the country's south.
President Andres Pastrana accused Colombia's largest rebel group of destroying the peace process.
The military put all its troops on high alert, army spokesman Maj. Jose Espejo said.
Fifteen tanks and 10 trucks loaded with soldiers were later seen moving through the streets of Bogota toward a military base in the south of the capital, closer to rebel territory.
Word of the talks' collapse appeared to take FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, by surprise. Rebel spokesman Raul Reyes had said hours before Mr. Pastrana's announcement that they hoped talks would continue until at least Jan. 20, when the rebels' use of the safe haven in southern Colombia was set to expire.
Many observers feared that if talks failed, all-out war would follow in the 38-year-old conflict that already kills about 3,500 people every year.
Mr. Pastrana granted the safe haven to the FARC as a site for the talks when they began three years ago. Since then the rebels have controlled the Switzerland-sized haven, mainly jungle and pastureland in southern Colombia.
"Today I have to tell Colombians, with regret, but above all with realism and responsibility, that the FARC keeps placing obstacles in front of the peace process, making it impossible for us to keep advancing with the process," Mr. Pastrana said in his nationally broadcast address to the nation.
"The FARC has 48 hours, as agreed, to retire from the zone," he said, referring to the original timeframe for them to abandon the safe haven if talks failed.
A grave Mr. Pastrana told the nation, "I've done the impossible to save this process that I initiated and directed personally."
He blamed the rebels for failing to discuss substantive issues like a cease-fire, and instead quibbling about military controls outside the borders of the safe haven.
The only airline Satena that has regular flights into the biggest town in the safe zone said it was suspending those flights.
The presidential peace negotiator, Camilo Gomez, said earlier in the day that the FARC had withdrawn from the process, but a rebel spokesman said he was lying.
"He lied to the country and the international community when he said the FARC had asked for 48 hours for the armed forces to enter the zone after not coming to an agreement," Mr. Reyes said.
He accused Mr. Gomez of "throwing gasoline on the fire at a time when the future of the nation requires humility, prudence and greatness."
Mr. Gomez spent the past days in the safe haven trying to resuscitate the talks. The rebels suspended negotiations last October after the military increased patrols along the borders of the zone.
Before returning to Bogota late yesterday from the zone, Mr. Gomez said he understood after his latest talks with the rebels that they would abandon the whole peace process.
"After hearing the FARC in different rounds of negotiations in the past few days the government understands that this insurgent group will not continue the peace process, and therefore they have asked for 48 hours" to vacate the towns inside the safe haven, Mr. Gomez said.
Mr. Reyes denied the rebels had made any such request.
After almost 38 years of war, Colombia is now facing a further upsurge of violence as the army prepares to push back into the Switzerland-sized enclave that Mr. Pastrana granted the FARC, Latin America's largest and oldest insurgency.
The final break came after a three-month deadlock in talks, as the FARC refused to discuss a cease-fire with the government in protest of military air patrols and border restrictions on the rebels' swath of cattle and cocaine country.
There was an angry reaction from the 17,000-member FARC branded a terrorist organization by the United States which is fighting to establish a socialist state.
Talks have done little to staunch the flow of blood in a war that has claimed 40,000 mainly civilian lives in the past decade, and the FARC has resisted government demands to silence their guns and cease mass kidnappings. The army accuses the rebels of using their territory as a base for running a cocaine business and training for war.
But, while opinion polls had shown Colombians doubted FARC's sincerity in negotiations, few had predicted that Mr. Pastrana would abandon a peace process so close to the end of his four-year term in August.
The president had long swallowed his pride and periodically renewed the controversial FARC enclave, even after high-profile rebel killings, including the September slaying of the attorney general's wife, and recent kidnappings of congressmen.
The United States is pouring more than $1 billion in mainly military aid into Mr. Pastrana's anti-cocaine "Plan Colombia."

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