Chaos in Colombia

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 24, 2002 | Go to article overview

Chaos in Colombia


Byline: The Register-Guard

After three years of fruitless peace talks, the Colombian government and leftist guerrillas have resumed their 38-year-old civil war in bloody earnest, with Bogota's armed forces moving to recapture a rebel-controlled "demilitarized zone" that is the size of Switzerland.

President Andres Pastrana's latest move does not appear to be an exercise in brinksmanship. He has ordered full-scale air and ground attacks. Colombia, which has been torn asunder by decades of fighting, will have to endure more violence before it can again hope for peace.

The resumption of fighting is likely to increase momentum in Washington for greater U.S. involvement in Colombia. Congress and the White House should proceed with caution.

Just six weeks ago, there was hope of a breakthrough, as Pastrana and rebels agreed to speed up talks on a cease-fire. But the recent rebel hijacking of a civilian airliner and kidnapping of a senator prompted the president to end the talks. The FARC, the country's main guerrilla army, also has been escalating its campaign of urban terrorism, killing nearly two dozen civilians in car bombings.

The fresh outbreak of fighting could affect the presidential election in May. Before the peace talks ended last week, polls showed most Colombians were cynical about the peace process. After Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, Colombians were less willing to view the FARC, listed last year by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, as a legitimate party to negotiations.

Pastrana was elected in 1998 after pledging that he would negotiate a peace with the rebels. But the president's bold moves, such as ceding to the guerrillas a 16,000-square-mile demilitarized zone, accomplished nothing other than giving rebels a chance to regroup their military forces and intensify narcotrafficking activities.

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