From: "Walter Lippmann" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Date: Wed, 30 Jan 2002 23:27:09 +1100
Subject: [CubaNews] Colombian peace talks begin in Cuba

Despite Washington's designation of Cuba
as a state Washington says is a sponsor
of terrorism, Washington's client regime
in Colombia travels to Cuba to negotiate
a possible peace treaty with one of its
two armed revolutionary opposition
organizations, the ELN. And not a word
of protest out of Washington about this.

Notice also two ELN commanders are on
"a brief furlough from prison"!!! for
these discussions!

Tuesday January 29 10:26 PM ET
Colombian Peace Talks Held in Cuba
By VIVIAN SEQUERA, Associated Press Writer

HAVANA (AP) - President Fidel Castro was on hand Tuesday as
two Colombian rebel commanders on a brief furlough from
prison arrived for exploratory peace talks with
representatives of the Bogota leadership.

``I am convinced that the country needs peace,'' Castro said
of Colombia after a hour-long opening session. ``I salute
the fact that they have gathered here,'' he added, declining
to comment on proposals that were made during first meeting.

Castro was joined by his Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque
for the start of discussions among leaders from the National
Liberation Army, or ELN, and representatives from Colombian
President Andres Pastrana government.

Pastrana said earlier Tuesday that if Castro attended the
event it ``would be an important gesture'' of support for
the peace process.

Cuba in past decades had backed armed rebel movements across
the Americas and in other parts of the world. Colombia's ELN
was among groups in the Western Hemisphere inspired by
Castro's 1959 revolution.

But communist Cuba ended its aid to insurgent groups in 1992
and in recent years Castro has supported peace efforts
between the Colombian government and the country's two major
rebel groups.

The military leaders of Colombia's second-largest rebel
group, the National Liberation Army, said they did not
expect major accords to result from the three days of talks.
But they said the meeting might lead to more substantial

``We hope to make a solid step toward continuing the process
over time,'' said Felipe Torres, a commander and negotiator
for the 5,000-member insurgency, known as the ELN.

Torres and fellow rebel leader Francisco Galan arrived
Tuesday afternoon after obtaining official permission - for
the fifth time - to leave a Colombian prison to participate
in peace talks outside of the country.

The only alternative to talking ``is more war,'' said
Antonio Navarro, an independent lawmaker traveling with
about 50 representatives of Colombian labor, business and
non-governmental organizations involved in the prickly
process since 1998.

While hopes were low for significant accords,
representatives of civil groups said they would ask the ELN
to cut back on armed attacks including the destruction of
electrical towers, petroleum lines and other infrastructure.

In Bogota, an ELN commander said in a television interview
the group would free the last hostage from a group of nine
people it kidnapped in June 1999. The commander did not say
when the ELN would free Boris Rodriguez, who has been held
for 31 months.

Earlier in January, government negotiations nearly broke
down with a separate guerrilla group, the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia. The 16,000-member force known as
the FARC is Colombia's largest rebel organization.

United Nations peace envoy James LeMoyne, who played a key
role in negotiations with the FARC, was expected to attend
the talks in Havana.

Roughly 3,500 people die every year in Colombia's 38-year
war, which pits the two rebel groups against the government
and an illegal right-wing paramilitary force.

Colombia, ELN Rebels Open Peace Talks in Havana
Tue Jan 29,11:32 PM ET
By Isabel Garcia-Zarza

HAVANA (Reuters) - With Cuban President Fidel Castro looking
on, the Colombian government reopened formal talks with the
country's second-largest rebel army, the ELN, in Cuba on

The three-day meeting follows a December 2001 accord in
which the National Liberation Army -- known by its Spanish
initials ELN -- and the government agreed to resume talks
after a five-month breakdown and begin discussions on a

"We are here because we continue believing in peace. Because
we insist that it is our obligation, our only way out to
continue betting on it," the government's chief peace envoy,
Camilo Gomez, said upon opening what is being called a
"peace summit".

The ELN was founded in the early 1960s by radical middle-
class youths inspired by President Fidel Castro's Cuban

The rebel group's 5,000 troops are still capable of
inflicting damage on the Andean nation's electric and oil
infrastructure with bombing campaigns, though military
losses have reduced it to a poorly-equipped ragtag army that
experts say is facing extinction.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana suspended negotiations
with the ELN in August, saying it was not serious about
peace. But following contacts in November, and a meeting in
December, the two sides agreed to return to talks in Cuba.

"The ELN is convinced the actors seeking peace must achieve
concrete results for the country. We can not keep raising
false expectations," ELN Spokesman Ramiro Vargas said.

"We hope we encounter the real possibility of the road of
peace," he added.

Around a hundred representatives from nongovernmental
organizations and representatives from the "Group of
Friendly Countries" -- Cuba, Switzerland, France, Spain and
Norway are attending the "peace summit".


Castro, dressed in his traditional military uniform, sat
quietly through the ceremony opening the talks, which will
move to behind closed doors on Wednesday and Thursday.

"I'm convinced the country needs peace ... They are the ones
that must discuss the issues. If I give an opinion I will
not be helping the peace process," Castro told the press
after the speeches ended.

Under their December accord, the two sides agreed to hold a
round of peace forums this year on a five-point agenda that
includes land reform, drug trafficking and human rights.

"I hope we can make progress on the agenda the ELN and the
government agreed to. The important thing is that the agenda
allows us to reach agreements," Pastrana said on Monday.

Although prospects for an immediate accord seem remote,
analysts say President Pastrana has a better chance of
eventually reaching a peace deal with the ELN than with the
17,000-member Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
FARC, before he steps down in August.

The FARC signed a landmark agreement with the government on
Jan. 20 to reach a cease-fire deal by April 7.

The war between the armed forces and leftist rebels and
far-right paramilitary outlaws has claimed 40,000 lives in
the past decade.

"The difference between the FARC and the ELN is that the ELN
is convinced that it cannot win while the FARC still hopes
to take power by force," Leon Valencia, a former ELN
commander and political commentator, told Reuters.

"It is that difference that is going to dictate the two
negotiations," he said.

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