Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Freer Hand for Colombia

January 16, 2002

In seemingly endless negotiations reminiscent of the 1968 Paris argument about a suitable shape for the Vietnam peace-talk table, the Colombian government and leftist FARC guerrillas have spent three years talking about what topics should be on the table during their own peace talks.

Last week, Colombia's president warned that unless the rebels started to negotiate in good faith, the peace process would end and he would send troops into a zone controlled by the guerrillas, who are known as much for protecting cocaine fields as for their violence against soldiers and civilians. On Monday, five hours before the deadline set by President Andres Pastrana, the two parties reached an agreement. Now they need to realize that Colombians have lost patience with blather and inaction. The negotiators must come up with a precise timetable for a cease-fire by Sunday, when the demilitarized zone that was ceded to the rebels expires.

United Nations special envoy James Lemoyne, the ambassadors from 10 countries and the Catholic Church deserve recognition for their effort to rescue a process that was on the lip of disaster. Now Colombia's government and the rebels each have clear responsibilities.

Pastrana's timing has been smart. When he issued last week's ultimatum, public opinion already had abandoned the guerrillas. The people are fed up with the championing of drug lords and kidnapping. Whatever sympathy the rebels had in European circles disappeared when three IRA terrorists were caught leaving Colombia after a visit to the rebels in August. Then, in December, the rebels turned down a cancer-stricken child's plea to see his kidnapped father. The child died.

Now Pastrana is in a good position to ask the always-supportive United States for more help in building a credible peace process, in part by lifting restrictions on government use of the weaponry that comes with the U.S. anti-drug aid package. This should push the rebels toward peace. It no longer makes sense to limit those weapons, or information gathered by U.S. intelligence, to operations against narcotics.

Such aid, however, should hinge on Pastrana committing to instilling in the army respect for human rights, and he needs to promptly break once and for all the army's ugly ties to paramilitary troops as ruthless as the guerrillas they fight. For their part, the rebels must stop their massive and lucrative kidnapping business and free the soldiers and civilians they now hold. They must also stop attacking cities, towns and villages.

FARC would be politically wise to show results before the presidential elections in May. Whatever credibility it had has faded, and the next president is likely to be less patient than Pastrana.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|