More paramilitaries may join Colombia cease-fire
BOGO TA, Colombia (Reuters) -- Dissident paramilitary groups plan to
join a unilateral cease-fire called by Colombia's largest far-right militia,
the AUC, broadening the scope of possible future peace talks with the
The office of the government's chief peace envoy told Reuters on Saturday
it had received a
letter from two paramilitary blocs in the country's northeast, declaring their intent to halt military
offensives starting Thursday.
Should it be confirmed, the move by an estimated 1,500 fighters would add
extra force to the
December 1 cease-fire declared by the country's larger 10,000-member United Self Defense
Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish initials AUC.
It would leave only a small fraction of paramilitaries in action, perhaps
less than 2,000 fighters
in northwest and central Colombia.
The brutal methods employed by the paramilitaries, who kill rebels and
sympathizers, have made them international pariahs. They are blamed for some of the worst
atrocities in Colombia's 38-year-old guerrilla war and are the country's fasting growing
The government of President Alvaro Uribe, who took office in August pledging
to stem a
conflict that claims thousands of lives a year, says he will negotiate with any group from the
far right or left if it first declares a cease-fire.
On Saturday, the government confirmed its third meeting in Havana, Cuba,
to explore the
possibility of peace talks with Colombia's second-largest guerrilla army, the Cuban-inspired
National Liberation Army, or ELN. It offered no details, saying only that talks would continue
Signing a peace deal with the paramilitaries could aid future peace talks
with Colombia's more
than 20,000 Marxist rebels, analysts say. Past peace efforts between the government and the
country's largest guerrilla army, the FARC, have been hampered by rebel demands for a
crackdown on paramilitaries.
Human rights groups say the "paras" have links to hard-line sectors of
the U.S.-backed military.
The militias evolved from vigilante groups set up by cattle ranchers in the 1980s to defend
themselves from Marxist guerrillas but are now heavily involved in the cocaine trade.
As part of the cease-fire, the AUC pledged on Friday to suspend offensive
but said it would defend itself if attacked by rebels.
It also called on the state to militarily occupy areas which the AUC now
paramilitaries have expelled rebels from large parts of the countryside, in some cases by
massacring peasants suspected of being leftist collaborators.
Copyright 2002 Reuters.