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Colombian peace talks Collapse !

The government gives the guerrillas 48 hours to leave the main municipalities," the Government's chief peace negotiator Camilo Gomez told reporters.

BBC, Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 21:54 GMT

Colombian peace talks collapse

The Colombian Government has broken off peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), putting an end to a three year peace process with the leftist rebel group.

Bogota has given the 17,000-member force two days to exit a demilitarised area roughly the size of Switzerland which was ceded to them in 1998 to kick-start the talks.

The latest talks began last week, but almost immediately ran into trouble over guerrilla demands that the government restrict its military and aerial patrols across the demilitarised zone.

"The government gives the guerrillas 48 hours to leave the main municipalities," the Government's chief peace negotiator Camilo Gomez told reporters. "Security forces will re-establish their presence in those areas."

The country's civil war pits the Marxist-inspired rebel group against the US-backed Colombian military and an outlawed right-wing military group. It claims roughly 3,500 lives each year.

The peace process to end nearly four decades of war was started in 1998 by President Andres Pastrana, who has since dedicated much of his time in office to ending the war.

He will leave office in August after presidential elections in May.

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Colombia: Rebels Abandoning Talks

By Susannah A. Nesmith Associated Press Writer Wednesday, January 9, 2002; 4:51 PM

BOGOTA, Colombia -- The government's peace negotiator announced Wednesday that it appeared leftist rebels had abandoned peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war.

Camilo Gomez said in a nationally broadcast statement that the rebels had asked to hand over a huge safe haven the government granted them as a condition to launch peace talks three years ago.

There was no immediate comment directly from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has waged a 38-year war to try to overthrow a succession of elected governments.

Gomez has spent the past several days in the Switzerland-sized safe haven in southern Colombia trying to resuscitate the talks which the rebels walked out of last October. He said it appeared there was no hope.

"After hearing the FARC in different rounds of negotiations in the past few days the government understands that this insurgent group will not continue the peace process and therefore they have asked for 48 hours" to vacate the towns inside the safe haven.

On Tuesday, sensing a possible collapse of the talks, the FARC had blamed any failure on the military and government, and threatened to intensify the war.

Many observers fear that if talks fail, all-out war in the conflict that already kills about 3,500 people die every year would follow.

The FARC faxed letters to the military, Congress, the Catholic Church, the United Nations and others making the threat, and calling the military "enemies of the people."

The rebels abandoned formal talks after President Andres Pastrana imposed military controls around the safe haven, which the government accuses the FARC of using to guard kidnap victims and traffick drugs.

Colombia's war pits the 15,000-strong FARC and a smaller rebel group against right-wing paramilitaries and government forces. About 35,000 people have died in the war in the past decade.

Washington has increased military aid to the government under a $1.3 billion economic assistance plan. At the same time, guerrillas and rival right-wing paramilitaries are growing stronger, in part, from the robust drug trade.

2002 The Associated Press

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U.S. Gives Colombia 14 Helicopters

By Susannah A. Nesmith Associated Press Writer Wednesday, January 9, 2002; 7:44 AM

TOLEMAIDA ARMY BASE, Colombia -- The U.S. ambassador to Colombia handed over 14 Black Hawk combat helicopters to the Colombian military on Tuesday, pledging unfailing support for the country's war against drug producers.

The helicopters are to be used against drug crops - but since those fields are protected by leftist rebels and rival paramilitary forces, the gift has raised fears that the United States may be inching its way into Colombia's 38-year-old civil war.

Under a scorching sun at the Tolemaida army base in the Andean lowlands, a Roman Catholic priest sprinkled holy water toward the helicopters as U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, Colombian President Andres Pastrana, Colombian troops and American civilian helicopter mechanics looked on.

But the helicopters won't see action until May, after Colombian crews complete flight training, said Colombian army Col. Carlos Alberto Murillo. The helicopters - made by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and worth $14 million apiece - will then accompany a brigade of U.S.-trained Colombian troops.

The troops are charged with wiping out drug crops protected and "taxed" by leftist rebels and a rival right-wing paramilitary group.

"We will continue working together to liberate Colombia, the region and the hemisphere from narcotics," Patterson said.

She said that in 2001, the U.S.-trained Colombian counternarcotics troops destroyed 1,400 rudimentary jungle labs that process coca leaves into coca paste, 84 labs that purify the coca into crystallized cocaine, and almost 60 tons of cocaine.

U.S.-provided crop dusters have also eradicated 232,000 acres of coca plants, Patterson said. The planes, which fly their missions protected by 33 previously donated "Huey" helicopters and a few Black Hawks, have sprayed primarily in southern Colombia's Putumayo state.

Most coca farmers in Putumayo have not received any alternative development aid promised under the Plan Colombia counterdrug initiative, which Washington is supporting with $1.3 billion. Furthermore, rebel attacks on aid workers in Putumayo threaten to paralyze the alternative development program.

In his remarks, the Colombian president thanked the United States for understanding that the fight against drug trafficking is a joint effort. Colombian leaders often complain that the United States and other nations that consume cocaine must help wipe out drug production and trafficking.

"We will fight and work together, and together we will defeat our common enemy," Pastrana told Patterson.

Critics of the U.S. aid say they are worried the helicopters and U.S.-trained troops may be used for pure cuonterinsurgency warfare, and not exclusively against rebels who protect drug crops.

2002 The Associated Press