- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

SAN VICENTE DEL CAGUAN, Colombia The government and main leftist rebel group agreed yesterday to resume peace talks, diplomats and a U.N. envoy said, overcoming an impasse that had threatened to plunge the country into a new round of fighting.
France's ambassador to Colombia, Daniel Parfait, read a statement saying the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had dropped its objections to returning to peace talks that were paralyzed since October.
He said President Andres Pastrana had signed off on the agreement, reached with the help of a U.N. envoy, Catholic Church delegates and ambassadors from 10 countries.
The government had earlier set a deadline of 9:30 p.m. EST for rebels to agree to resume the peace process or troops would move to retake their safe haven in southern Colombia.
Colombians had been bracing for fighting, as troops in recent days amassed around the zone, which Mr. Pastrana ceded to the FARC in 1998 just before the outset of peace talks.
The accord held out new hope for cease-fire talks envisioned before the breakdown in the peace process late last year. The accord was reached with the help of the foreign diplomats and days of mediation by U.N. envoy James LeMoyne.
"Now is a defining moment, more than any other time during this process," Mr. Pastrana said in a televised speech to the nation last night.
"The FARC should make no mistake. During these days we have all witnessed what a country wants and the country is speaking clearly: All Colombians, without exception, without differences, are embracing institutions and backing the government, and making it clear how far we are willing to go to recover peace," he said.
The agreement came after Mr. Parfait and nine other foreign envoys met with rebels in an 11th-hour attempt to salvage the peace process.
Rebel negotiator Raul Reyes confirmed that the FARC was satisfied that military controls placed around the Switzerland-sized zone were not endangering the peace talks.
Mr. LeMoyne said the agreement had the full backing of the United Nations. He exchanged handshakes and hugs with rebel leaders after the accord was announced.
Mr. LeMoyne also went over jubilantly to a group that had gathered at the negotiating compound in this southern village to urge on the negotiators. He raised a small girl in his arms and gave her a kiss.
"This is great," said one of the peace protesters, Valdemar Moreno, a rancher from the nearby town of San Vicente del Caguan.
However, Mr. Moreno's sister Amparo Bohorquez cast a note of caution. "The negotiators now have to sign agreements that will protect the human rights of the civilian population and a cease-fire," she said.
The deal capped a nerve-racking day in which Colombians awoke to find that the peace process, believed to have collapsed the day before, had a chance of being rescued.
Yesterday the diplomats from France, Canada, Sweden, Cuba, Norway, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland and Venezuela announced they were flying into rebel territory to try to broker a last-ditch accord.
In agreeing to come back to the negotiations, the guerrillas appeared to be meeting all of the president's demands for restarting the process. That, in turn, allows the FARC to hold on to the rebel enclave in Colombia's southern plains.

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