Anti-Rebel Group in Colombia Backs Talks
U.N. May Consult Insurgents on Plan
BOGOTA, Colombia, May 30 -- Colombia's right-wing paramilitary group
said today that it would support President-elect Alvaro Uribe Velez's proposal
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
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
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
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
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
April, has been stepping up attacks since the peace talks collapsed.