The Washington Post
Friday, May 31, 2002; Page A26

Anti-Rebel Group in Colombia Backs Talks

U.N. May Consult Insurgents on Plan

Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia, May 30 -- Colombia's right-wing paramilitary group said today that it would support President-elect Alvaro Uribe Velez's proposal to hold
peace negotiations with guerrillas.

Elected Sunday on a promise to clamp down on the guerrillas, Uribe made the unexpected proposal to hold peace talks with the insurgents if they agreed to a
cease-fire and halted terrorist activity. Uribe said he would ask the United Nations to sound out the guerrillas on his proposal.

Colombia's 38-year war pits such guerrilla armies as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, against a paramilitary group and government forces.
Some 3,500 people are killed each year in the conflict. Most of the casualties have been civilians killed in attacks by guerrillas and in massacres by the paramilitary

"The new president's proposal is bringing more hope for peace to the Colombians," said Carlos Castaño, the commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of
Colombia, or AUC, in a statement posted on the Internet site of the paramilitary group.

"We see he is willing to negotiate with the guerrillas once they stop their hostile acts and terrorism," Castaño said.

Castaño also said his group would keep fighting the guerrillas until they showed they would negotiate seriously.

The AUC, an illegal force backed by landowners and drug money, was sharply critical of outgoing president Andres Pastrana's efforts to negotiate with guerrillas in
the absence of a cease-fire.

Pastrana's peace plan fell apart in February.

Uribe also called for negotiations with the paramilitary group provided its fighters "do not kill another Colombian." The president-elect's critics say he is sympathetic
toward the AUC, an accusation Uribe vehemently denies.

Uribe has promised to battle all illegal armed groups.

The FARC has not responded directly to Uribe's call for talks. On Monday, its anniversary, the group said only that it was committed to "searching for dialogue
toward peace."

But most observers said they doubt the FARC would accept Uribe's demands for a cease-fire. The group, suspected in an assassination attempt against Uribe in
April, has been stepping up attacks since the peace talks collapsed.

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