- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2002

LOS POZOS, Colombia Hours before a crucial deadline, rebel and government negotiators yesterday agreed to a timetable for cease-fire talks, the first significant accomplishment in Colombia's rancorous peace process.
The agreement was signed by the rebels and the government chief negotiator less than four hours before President Andres Pastrana was to decide whether to cancel a safe haven he ceded to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, three years ago.
Mr. Pastrana, who spent yesterday in his presidential palace in Bogota with his ministers awaiting the results of the meeting, had no immediate comment.
However, he had been in constant touch with his negotiators, who met the rebels deep in their sanctuary in southern Colombia, and a continuation of the rebel zone was all but assured. Cancellation of the zone likely would have resulted in a bloodier war in this South American country.
Foreign diplomats helped facilitate talks, held under an open-air thatched-roof hut. After the agreement was reached, chief government negotiator Camilo Gomez and the envoys toasted the accord with a drink of rum. Cuba's ambassador handed out cigars to government officials, gun-toting rebels and diplomats.
"This is good news for Colombia," declared U.N. special envoy James LeMoyne.
The accord signed by Mr. Gomez and rebel negotiators calls for immediate opening of cease-fire talks, with the goal of setting cease-fire terms by April 7. It also calls for the participation of an international verification commission, which would also "overcome complications."
The agreement also said talks aimed at ending violence by a brutal right-wing paramilitary group would be part and parcel of the cease-fire negotiations.
The accord raised hopes that Colombia's peace process, which began three years ago but has produced few results, was on track. However, a 1984 cease-fire agreement between the FARC and the administration of President Belisario Betancur broke down three years later when the rebels ambushed an army patrol. The government then suspended peace talks.
Mr. Pastrana revived the peace process after taking office in 1998, taking the novel step of giving the government's enemies a huge safe haven as a site for the talks and as an incentive to the highly suspicious rebels.

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