President-elect, rebels agree to talk in Colombia
BOGOTA, Colombia -- (AFP) -- In a historic move, President-elect Andres
Pastrana held a face-to-face meeting Thursday with the top leader of Colombia's
strongest rebel group, who agreed to sit down to talk peace with the incoming
The surprise meeting was held at an undisclosed site, according to a statement
conservative Pastrana read to reporters at his campaign headquarters several
hours later. He said he had agreed to withdraw government troops from five areas
in southern Colombia after he takes office Aug. 7, meeting a rebel condition for the
start of talks.
Pastrana said he met with the legendary leader of the Revolutionary Armed
of Colombia (FARC), Manuel Marulanda, known as ``Tirofijo'' -- Sure-Shot --
who took up arms against the Colombian government 40 years ago.
He said Marulanda, accompanied by FARC military commander Jorge Briceño,
gave him a 10-point document in which the Marxist group expressed its ``political
willingness to discuss at a negotiating table the national problem of achieving peace
and social justice.''
A presidential aide said the meeting took place in a mountainous region
Colombia and was set up with the help of the International Committee of the Red
To bring the rebels to the negotiating table, Pastrana said he agreed to
demand that five municipalities in southern Colombia be demilitarized.
``We agreed on the conditions of demilitarization of five localities in
the first 90
days of my government,'' Pastrana said.
``The members of the FARC secretariat said they consider this first encounter
and historic and that it is transcendental for all Colombians in the search for a
political end to the social and armed conflict,'' Pastrana said.
Pastrana showed reporters a video with images of his meeting, then read
prepared statement. He refused to take questions.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) -- the nation's second-largest rebel
welcomed Pastrana's meeting with Marulanda.
Jailed ELN spokesman Francisco Galan told local media such contacts were
He said the leadership of the rebel groups had agreed to separately pursue
negotiations with the government.
``Then, and according to the development of each process, we will look
of convergence in a program of unity and national reconstruction,'' Galan said.
The meeting came as the ELN prepared to meet with mediators in Germany
Sunday to set the stage for its own peace process.
Pastrana asked the news media and other institutions to exercise ``great
responsibility, seriousness and discretion'' in the light of the process ahead. For
that reason, he said, he will abstain from providing any more details.
The encounter with the guerrilla leader was videotaped and shown to reporters.
Marulanda, wearing a new camouflage uniform and looking spry despite his 69
years of age, welcomed Pastrana with a broad smile and a firm embrace.
Briceño -- code-named Mono Jojoy -- the FARC military chief who
took part in
the meeting, is the strategist behind the tough blows the guerrilla forces have
inflicted on the Colombian army in the southern jungles in the past two years.
Pastrana was accompanied by Victor Ricardo, Colombia's former ambassador
Argentina and one of the president-elect's advisors on peacekeeping. Ricardo
reportedly met with Marulanda a week before Pastrana won the June 21 runoff
election to convey Pastrana's willingness to meet with the guerrilla leader.