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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 00:31 GMT
Colombians angry over rebel zone
Colombian president Andreas Pastrana
President Pastrana visited the FARC zone on Saturday
Over 10,000 people have taken part in a demonstration in the northern Colombian state of Bolivar, to reject the formation of the country's second demilitarised zone.

FARC rebels relax with a game of soccer
Locals fear than ELN rebels - like FARC - will not play ball
The government is said to be close to granting the area, some 400,000 square kilometres, to Colombia's second largest guerrilla movement, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The rebel movement has demanded the zone as a condition for peace talks.

President Andres Pastrana's peace envoy, Camilo Gomez, has said that a significant number of local leaders would have to support the plan before an agreement could be formalised.


Government delegates have been holding meetings with the ELN and representatives of the 35,000 local residents for months.

President Andres Pastrana, right, talks to Peace Commissioner Camilo Gomez
Gomez (standing) has the backing of Mr Pastrana
Residents, however, complain they have had no say in how the demilitarised zone would work.

"If we are going to loan out our house, they should let us give our opinions on how it is going to be run," said Delmare Rufos, the mayor of Santa Rosa, a town just outside of the proposed rebel zone.

Mr Gomez has said he plans to meet local residents again next week.

Civilian police

Under the plan, the rebels would control the zone for a period of nine months.

It would be patrolled by a civilian police force chosen by the two local mayors and a 150-member international delegation to monitor potential human rights abuses against residents.

ELN commanders have vowed to respect the rights of residents and to refrain from recruiting in the zone, or spreading propaganda.

They also pledged not to carry out any kidnappings for ransom, which has been a major source of financing for the rebels.

Many residents fear the ELN will abuse their stronghold and rule with an iron fist - the same way the nation's largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has reportedly run their demilitarised stronghold in southern Colombia.

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See also:

31 Jan 01 | Americas
Colombia extends rebel refuge
23 Jan 01 | Americas
Colombian rebels turn down talks
14 Jan 01 | Americas
Eyewitness: Inside a cocaine factory
13 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
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16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
04 Feb 01 | Americas
Analysis: FARC holds all the cards
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