Colombia: Peace Process Gets Another Reprieve
Peace talks with both the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) were considered all but over, and with them Colombian President Andres Pastrana's chance to keep his promise to make fundamental progress toward peace before his four-year term expires Aug. 7, 2002. Now talks with both groups could resume, again raising hopes in Colombia that the decades-long violence might end.
In describing the faltering peace process, analysts had been using phases like "mortally wounded." Interior Minister Armando Estrada said on Nov. 11 that negotiations were "hanging by a thread and could break completely at any moment."
But, after intense international efforts to salvage the process, government peace commissioner Camilo Gomez said on Nov. 24 that a "highly favorable climate exists that soon the obstacles that have kept the peace process with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) at a standstill since October will be overcome." Gomez made his remarks as he left for Havana where the government signed a new agreement with the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN).
FARC calls for national meeting
On Feb. 9, the FARC and the government signed the Los Pozos Accord, which created a committee of prominent citizens (Comision de Notables) to find ways to reduce the conflict and control the ultraright paramilitary groups. The demilitarized zone in southern Colombia was extended until Oct. 9.
On Oct. 5, government and rebel representatives signed a new agreement in San Francisco de la Somba, which made negotiating a cease-fire a priority. Pastrana extended the demilitarized zone until Jan. 20, 2002, while ordering controls on the perimeter of the zone to be beefed up (see NotiSur, 2001-10-19).
Two weeks later, the FARC pulled out of the talks because of the increase in military check points on the outskirts of the zone. The government accused the FARC of looking for an excuse to avoid discussing the six-month bilateral cease-fire proposed by the Comision de Notables.
In early November, the FARC's top leader Manuel "Tirofijo" Marulanda sent a letter to the government saying the group would only return to the negotiating table if the government met a series of demands--including a statement that the rebels are not "terrorists."
Marulanda said such a statement was necessary to "avoid giving the US a pretext for intervening in the internal affairs of Colombia." The FARC, the ELN, and the paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) are all on the list of international terrorist groups issued by Washington in September (see NotiSur, 2001-09-14).
Marulanda said if the government did not respond to the demands by Nov. 21, the FARC would turn over the demilitarized zone and end any effort to continue the peace process. Other conditions included lifting restrictions on access to the demilitarized zone, removing the military cordon around the zone, and creating a commission to investigate paramilitary activities within the zone.
"This gives the impression that the FARC does not want to continue the process, which has not made any progress in months, and that, to get out of it, the FARC is setting up conditions that are unacceptable for the government." said Helena Rodriguez, political analyst at the Universidad de la Sabana.
On Nov. 14, the group of friendly countries (paises amigos) promoting the peace process intensified efforts to avoid a complete breakdown in talks. Efforts were led by Spain's Ambassador in Colombia Yago Pico de Coana, coordinator of the group, which includes Canada, Cuba, France, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Venezuela.
As the Nov. 21 deadline approached, UN special envoy Jan Egeland requested a meeting with the FARC to urge continuing the talks. The FARC initially turned down the request, saying the government banned foreigners from entering the zone. …