AFP. 30 January 2002. Colombian peace summit underway in the Cuban capital.
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 peace. 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 infrastructure." 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 followers. 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 1998. 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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Barry Stoller http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ProletarianNews