AFP. 30 January 2002. Colombian peace summit underway in the Cuban

HAVANA -- Representatives of Colombia's government, civilian groups and
the pro-Cuban National Liberation Army (ELN) launched negotiations in
the Cuban capital Wednesday, trying to make a Summit for Peace live up
to its name.

Participants -- including UN special envoy to Colombia James LeMoyne --
were divided into five working groups for closed-door sessions
Wednesday, after Cuban President Fidel Castro presided at the official
opening of the summit Tuesday night.

LeMoyne was instrumental earlier this month in negotiating a last-minute
breakthrough in talks between the government and Colombia's largest
insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The two
sides agreed to negotiate a ceasefire by April, in a January 20 deal.

But the current meeting, set to close Thursday, has the modest objective
of evaluating "obstacles and successes" of the government-ELN peace
process thus far, according to an official statement on the encounter
issued by President Andres Pastrana's office.

Top ELN official Ramiro Vargas told AFP Wednesday the discussions were
at a preliminary stage, and that both sides considered the the summit "a
discussion forum, not a negotiation to arrive a concrete accords."

A day earlier Vargas warned against false expectations and harshly
criticized Pastrana, whose terms ends in August, saying that much work
remained to forge the different peace processes underway into a single

But Peace Commissioner Camilo Gomez, head of the government delegation,
was more upbeat Wednesday.

The talks, he said, were aimed at "finding mechanisms that would permit
us, during this transition timetable, to reach concrete accords ... on
subjects such as kidnappings and attacks on the country's

ELN spokesmen Francisco Galan and Felipe Torres, both incarcerated in a
high security jail in northern Colombia, were permitted to attend the
summit in Havana.

The two met briefly with Castro on the sidelines of the meeting.

The ELN, the second largest guerrilla movement in Colombia, was founded
in 1965, inspired by the Cuban revolution. It claims some 4,500

While Pastrana's government hopes to take firm steps toward a ceasefire
during the meeting, the ELN seeks to get a demilitarized zone similar to
the one in southern Colombia the FARC have been in control of since

Both sides are committed to finding a political solution to the conflict
and fixed a timetable to discuss in Cuba, Venezuela and other venues, a
ceasefire, international human rights, oil policies and other business.

The discussions will continue at least until Pastrana's term in office
runs out August 7.

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Barry Stoller

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