Colombian gov’t, rebels meet with int’l mediators


HAVANA, AFP

Colombia’s government officials and leaders of the country’s second largest guerrilla group met with international mediators here Monday, but a peace accord anticipated by Colombian media proved to be elusive.

Colombian High Commissioner for Peace Camilo Gomez and National Liberation Army (ELN) Nicolas Rodriguez informed envoys of Cuba, Switzerland, France, Norway and Spain of their efforts toward peace, according to an official statement.

But the document contains to indication of progress toward a formal peace accord.

Participants were “informed of the results of recent deliberations to establish a meeting zone with its rules and verification mechanisms, in the search for a negotiated political solution within the framework of the peace process taking place in Colombia,” an official statement read.

The statement was released at the end of the meeting late Monday.

A Colombian radio report said earlier Monday that the government and the ELN were to sign an accord to create a demilitarized zone for the ELN in northern Colombia.

The Colombian government announced Friday it had reached a tentative agreement with the 5,000-strong ELN, the nation’s second biggest leftist rebel force, on conditions for demilitarizing the northern enclave where the group has said it wants to host a peace convention.

No date has yet been announced for demilitarization to take place, however.

Colombian forces are expected to vacate the 2,000 square-kilometer (772 square-mile) enclave, located some 700 kilometers (435 miles) between the towns of San Pablo and Cantagallo north of the capital Bogota, according to Camilo Gomez.

The ELN’s national convention for peace, scheduled to last nine months, will go ahead inside the “meeting zone.” Various sectors of the civilian population will participate in the peace convention.

Civilian police, armed with small weapons, and judicial authorities will still operate in the zone, and the ELN will recognize and respect the civil authority of the two town mayors in the region, according to the plan.

Gomez said the rebel group had also agreed to guarantee human rights of the region’s residents, as well as freedom to practice religion.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana announced in April 2000 that a demilitarized zone with the ELN was on the cards, a move that provoked harsh criticism of the plan from local authorities and residents.

Pastrana earlier negotiated a demilitarized enclave the size of Switzerland located some 700 kilometers south of Bogota with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla group.

That zone, measuring 42,000 square kilometers (16,216 square miles), was conceded to the FARC in November 1998 on the understanding the group would enter talks aimed at negotiating an end to Colombia’s civil war.