- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

Colombia has won a reprieve from bloody confrontation between the military and terrorist guerrilla and paramilitary forces. Whether this reprieve leads to an eventual peace, bloodshed, or a continuation of the violent status quo depends on the actions of the critical players in Colombia's high-stakes rumble. Although there doesn't seem to be immediate cause for optimism, there are some hopeful signs on the horizon.
In recent days, Colombian President Andres Pastrana and the country's most powerful guerrilla group, the Farc, have been caught in a dramatic stalemate. Last week, Mr. Pastrana surprised much of the world by declaring he was breaking off peace negotiations with the Farc. As the Jan. 20 deadline for the Farc to abandon a demilitarized enclave that Mr. Pastrana ceded to their control in 1998 loomed closer, the military and Farc seemed headed for an inevitable confrontation that was sure to take many civilian lives. Mr. Pastrana had given the Farc the enclave as a gesture of goodwill to jump-start peace talks. But the Farc has used the territory to hold kidnapped victims, grow drug crops and launch terror campaigns.
On Monday, Mr. Pastrana demonstrated uncharacteristic resolve by declaring that if the Farc failed to make specific commitments, it would have to withdraw from the enclave by 9:30 pm. This move by the president was far from expected, since Mr. Pastrana has given the Farc nonsense extensions on deadlines for withdrawal nine times since the enclave was established. On Monday, at the last hour, with the military surrounding the enclave, the Farc agreed to meet the government's minimal demands, which include a pledge to create a timetable for a cease-fire, and to halt kidnapping and extortion operations. James LeMoyne, the U.N. envoy to Colombia, was the main broker of the negotiations. The latest pact brings the government and the Farc back from the brink for now.
But unfortunately, the Farc stakes its survival on being a scourge on the country. Its power is underpinned by murderous brutality, its financing is backed by the drug trade, kidnapping, and other violent activities, and the group has consistently demonstrated its aversion to democracy, stability and peace. Just hours before the Farc made its stated concession to the government, the group launched a series of attacks, including a siege on the town of San Jose de Alban, which killed nine police officers and one guard. And as Mr. Pastrana was announcing the resumption of peace talks late Monday, the Farc launched an attack on a prison close to Colombia's capital, Bogota, which killed one guard.
The United States has indicated it will begin financially supporting Colombia's counter-insurgent efforts, which effectively ends the pretense that the drug cartels are independent of the guerrillas and paramilitaries. If Mr. Pastrana or Colombia's next president has the courage to declare that Colombia's guerrillas and paramilitaries are terrorist and drug traffickers, these brutal combatants will be subject to extradition to the United States. The prospect would significantly mar the terrorists' ability to subjugate an entire population.


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