- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

Colombia's Marxist rebels remain firm on a final offensive against the country's power centers, making this week's peace push by the United Nations and neighbors tenuous at best.
"Our goal is to take power, whatever the means. If that means by rifle, so be it. So, with or without the peace process, we shall continue with our plan," a field commander of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said. He estimated that the final offensive would come in a few years.
After a dramatic flurry of negotiations involving a U.N. special envoy and foreign diplomats, and a government threat to use force, peace talks to end the 38-year-old insurgency were salvaged on Monday.
However, as a sign of the difficulties in bringing about lasting peace, the guerrilla group began bomb attacks hours after President Andres Pastrana accepted the peace accord.
Begun more than three years ago, shortly after Mr. Pastrana ceded a Switzerland-size area to the FARC for what he proposed to be "a peace laboratory," the peace process has produced few results.
"Signs show that the FARC does not have a sincere and serious disposition to talk and agree to a truce," columnist Alfredo Rangel wrote in Colombia's largest newspaper, El Tiempo. FARC commanders and negotiators Raul Reyes and Simon Trinidad say the government, pressured by an "oligarchy," seems more concerned about FARC laying down its weapons than in discussing the group's Marxist-style reforms.
"It is all about power, not reform," said a Pentagon official who has visited Colombia and studied insurgencies around the world. "If Pastrana conceded to all their demands, the FARC would still not back off. The Vietnamese communists did the same thing. They talked and talked, but nothing was ever done."
Critics say Mr. Pastrana's peace policy was conceived hastily, ill-planned and lacked strict rules to control FARC behavior in the southern enclave.
Mr. Pastrana gave in when the FARC forced out police, judicial officials and a token presence of soldiers from the zone just after its commencement. When the FARC refused to allow an international inspection team, Mr. Pastrana complained but did nothing.
As a result, the FARC has been freely using the zone for cocaine trafficking and holding kidnap victims, Colombian, U.S. and European officials and independent human rights groups say. When three suspected Irish Republican Army terrorists were arrested in the capital, Bogota, last summer after reportedly visiting the rebel zone, Mr. Pastrana started tightening control of access to the zone and increased military checkpoints and surveillance flights around the zone.
Arguing these controls threatened its security and curtailed its ability to receive legitimate visitors, the FARC demanded that they be lifted before any peace advances could be made. This time, Mr. Pastrana held firm.
When Mr. Pastrana seen as a "softy" by the FARC suspended talks on Jan. 9 and threatened to retake the zone, it took rebel leaders by surprise. Mr. Pastrana gave the rebels a 48-hour deadline to follow through on October's San Francisco agreement to study recommendations for a cease-fire.
As the government began mobilizing armored vehicles, attack aircraft and some 13,000 soldiers, U.N. special envoy James LeMoyne flew to the rebel zone to mediate the crisis. Mr. Pastrana gave an extra 48 hours for them to work. Mr. LeMoyne, an American former New York Times reporter, was joined by diplomats from 10 friendly countries and a Catholic church representative.
The key to resolving the crisis was to restore confidence, Mr. LeMoyne said. Perhaps more important to reviving the talks were the respective interests of the FARC and Mr. Pastrana.
The FARC did not want to lose its sanctuary. Since the zone was formed in November 1998, the FARC grew in strength from 9,900 guerrillas to about 16,500 last year, according to military intelligence.
As for Mr. Pastrana, he has made the peace process the centerpiece of his administration and was loath to see it fall apart just seven months from the end of his term.


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