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Monday, 25 December, 2000, 23:30 GMT
Colombia announces progress on peace
Colombian army
2000 saw record levels of violence, massacres and kidnappings
By Jeremy McDermott in Colombia

Colombian President Andres Pastrana has given a Christmas address to this war-weary nation saying that a deal was in place for the creation of a second guerrilla safe haven and peace process.

President Pastrana announced that the draft deal was ready, signalling the start of a peace process with Colombia's second largest rebel army, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

But many Colombians do not regard the news as bringing much Christmas cheer.

There already exists a 40,0000km2 safe haven for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Positive signs

The granting of this guerrilla enclave was trumpeted as the first step towards ending 37 years of civil conflict, but two years later the country has moved the other way, with violence, massacres and kidnappings at record level.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana
Not everybody backs President Pastrana's peace process
Critics see the granting of an ELN safe haven as a chance for the battered rebel force to regroup and use its zone as the FARC have used theirs - to build up military strength, import arms, export drugs and recruit minors.

But there are some positive signs.

The ELN has long wanted a peace process and shown a will for peace, unlike the FARC, and the new zone will be granted under vastly different conditions from that of the FARC, with international verification and respect for human rights.

In addition, the area - still not fixed - will be much smaller and therefore easier to monitor.

Frozen peace process

But the peace process with the FARC, despite a long list of government concessions, is frozen.

The FARC wants the government to do something about the paramilitary death squads that are making huge inroads into guerrilla territory.

So President Pastrana is praying that the ELN will give him some concessions to bolster his peace initiative - and fast.

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See also:

21 Dec 00 | Americas
Officers charged with massacre
06 Dec 00 | Americas
More Colombians flee violence
16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
07 Jun 00 | Americas
Colombia overture to rebels
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