The people of Colombia are bracing for war.
On Wednesday, Colombian President Andres Pastrana shocked the nation when he announced that the peace talks with thecountry’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, had come to an end. Pastrana gave therebels a 48-hour ultimatum to withdraw from the demilitarized zone that the guerrillas have occupied during threeyears of negotiations. Convoys of government troops and tanks are already closing in on the area.
A rebel spokesman said the FARC was puzzled by Pastrana’s announcement. He said that "It is the government whichshould return to the negotiating table, not the FARC, because we never left it."
Yesterday, Pastrana gave a new ultimatum, allowing international mediators another 48 hours to talk with the rebels.
Human rights groups are warning that a military invasion of the area could result in mass killings of civilians thatthe army or right-wing paramilitaries accuse of aiding the rebels. In recent months, the paramilitaries have steppedup violence against people who live just outside the zone, killing mayors, journalists and others. 90,000 civilianslive in the Switzerland-sized zone. Colombia has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere.
But the Bush administration yesterday voiced support for Pastrana’s ultimatum. Secretary of State General ColinPowell blamed the FARC for the collapse of peace talks and for Pastrana’s ultimatum. According to the New YorkTimes, the U.S. has been exerting considerable pressure on Pastrana to take a tougher line. Last summer, asenior State Department official told Pastrana of American concerns that the FARC was using the demilitarized zone totrain terrorists. Secretary Powell had been expected to convey a similar message in a visit to Colombia but wasforced to return to Washington because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. The US supports Colombia with $1.3 billionin mostly military aid.
Yesterday we reached by telephone Martin Eder, a reporter, human rights activist and professor of Sociology atMiraCosta College in Southern California.
He is in San Vicente del Caguan, which is the largest city in FARC-controlled demilitarized zone.
- Martin Eder, professor of Sociology at MiraCosta College in Southern California, speaking from San Vicentedel Caguan (the largest city in FARC-controlled/demilitarized zone in Colombia).