January 14, 1999
Colombia's right-wing militias call for peace talks

                  BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Days after launching one of their bloodiest
                  offensives ever, Colombia's right-wing paramilitary groups announced in a
                  letter published Thursday that they are willing to begin peace talks with the

                  The paramilitary groups also called for a cease-fire between their militias and
                  rival leftist guerrillas to allow for "simultaneous and parallel" talks between
                  the government and both groups.

                  "We accept your invitation to initiate conversations with our anti-subversive
                  movement," the militias declared in a letter to President Andres Pastrana.

                  The letter, published in newspapers Thursday, was signed by the United
                  Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, an umbrella organization for 5,000
                  paramilitary fighters.

                  The militias, backed by wealthy landowners, arose a decade ago as a
                  response to rebel kidnapping and extortions. Since then, at times with
                  military support, they have vied with rebels, often massacring civilians
                  accused of guerrilla ties.

                  Over the weekend, they slaughtered at least 140 people in four states.
                  Pastrana on Tuesday directed the army to restore order and vowed new
                  efforts to jail top militia leaders and dismantle their organizations.

                  Pastrana responded tentatively to the offer, saying Wednesday that he would
                  only open a dialogue with the right-wing militias after peace talks are further
                  along with leftist rebels.

                  "We need to have all of the actors of the conflict at the negotiating table,"
                  said Pastrana, who left Thursday for Cuba in a state visit aimed partly at
                  securing Fidel Castro's help in peace talks with the rebels.

                  Pastrana opened negotiations on Jan. 7 with Colombia's largest leftist rebel
                  group, the 15,000-member Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
                  FARC. Preliminary peace discussions are also planned for Feb. 13 between
                  the government, civilian leaders and the 5,000-member National Liberation

                  Pastrana has previously expressed willingness to open separate
                  conversations with the paramilitaries, but such negotiations could complicate
                  relations with the rebels, who adamantly oppose government-militia talks.

                  In their letter, which was released to radio stations and newspapers on
                  Wednesday, the paramilitaries defended the weekend slaughter, admitting
                  that their forces killed "proven subversives out of combat," but saying this
                  was a necessary evil of Colombia's "irregular war."

                  In the attacks -- carried out in Antioquia, Cesar, Bolivar and Putumayo
                  states -- armed men with lists in hand pulled unarmed victims from their
                  homes and executed them, accusing them of supporting or belonging to
                  guerrilla groups.

                  Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.