Tags: Civil | War | Renews | Colombia

Civil War Renews in Colombia

Thursday, 21 February 2002 12:00 AM

After three years of oft-interrupted peace talks, President Andres Pastrana ended further dialogue with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, late Wednesday and gave it a midnight deadline to leave the territory in southern Colombia that it was given in 1998 to start talks.

"I have decided to put an end to the safe zone as of midnight today," Pastrana said in a national address late Wednesday. "I have issued orders to the armed forces to reoccupy this zone, with special care given to protecting the civilian population."

In addition to the bombing of 85 targets within the territory as of noon Thursday, Pastrana ordered 13,000 heavily armed troops and tanks to amass on the outlying areas of the region. Ground troop movement was expected at any time.

More than 100,000 civilians live in the region.

"We are doing our jobs," an unidentified Colombian air force pilot from Apiay air base told the Colombian daily El Tiempo after returning from a bombing run. "Basically, our work is to maintain an aerial campaign, bombing specified targets. We have launched more than 200 missions since midnight."

About 40,000 Colombians, mostly non-combatants during the 1990s, have been killed in the country's civil war. Gen. Fernando Tapias, commander general of the armed forces, said his troops were working to provide security for the civilians in the rebel's safe zone.

The armed forces of Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador were reinforcing their borders with Colombia, fearing FARC would seek refuge within their countries.

Pastrana, who leaves office in six months, has come under fire of late by high-ranking military officials who said FARC was simply using its 16,000-square-mile safe zone as a training ground and staging area for launching attacks, as well as to grow cocaine to raise money.

The United States has delivered $1 billion in monetary aid as well as equipment, training and intelligence to Colombian special forces as the country battles the narcotics trade. While that battle is waged against guerilla groups, there are no reports of U.S. military involvement in Thursday's operations.

It was Wednesday that the Aires airline flight was hijacked, reportedly by four guerillas in civilian clothing. They forced the plane to land in southern Colombia on a highway near the town of Hobo, where it was met by guerrillas who fled with the hijackers and the captive, Sen. Jorge Gechen Turbay, of whom there has been no word. The remaining 29 passengers were freed unharmed.

Pastrana and FARC commanders underwent tense peace talks last month, and both sides agreed Jan. 23 to take concrete steps to reach a cease-fire by early April. But since that January agreement, there have been more than 100 rebel attacks that have killed at least 20 people.

Additionally, there were reports on Thursday that rebels had bombed the Cano Limon oil pipeline, which has often been a target of FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army, known as ELN.

Both groups are on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Washington has expressed interest in protecting oil pipelines in Colombia, many of which are operated by U.S. companies.

International support was widespread for Pastrana's decision to end peace talks and begin the bombing. U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan said Pastrana's moves were justified and that the hijacking and subsequent kidnapping was certainly a violation of international human rights.

"The FARC's repeated violations of international humanitarian law and the kidnapping of thousands of Colombians and others, including children, are unacceptable," Annan's statement said. He called on FARC to release all those kidnapped.

Annan urged special measures be taken to "protect civilians in the former demilitarized zone that is today being reoccupied by the Colombian military." Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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After three years of oft-interrupted peace talks, President Andres Pastrana ended further dialogue with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, late Wednesday and gave it a midnight deadline to leave the territory in southern Colombia that it was given in 1998 to...
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2002-00-21
Thursday, 21 February 2002 12:00 AM
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