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The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota
"Colombia can relax a bit, at least until Sunday"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 14:17 GMT
Colombia extends rebel refuge
FARC rebels in the demilitarized zone
FARC has an estimated 17,000 members

Colombia's president, Andres Pastrana, has extended the demilitarised status of a zone controlled by the country's FARC rebel movement for another four days.

Mr Pastrana said he was granting the extension to give the guerillas more time to rejoin peace talks.

He made the announcement just hours before the zone's status as a safe haven for FARC - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - was due to expire.

FARC pulled out of talks last November, accusing the government of failing to control right-wing paramilitary groups.

President Andres Pastrana
Pastrana: another chance for rebels

In a televised speech, Mr Pastrana said he wanted to meet the FARC leader Manuel Marulanda.

"I have decided to extend the demilitarised zone until the end of this week with the only purpose of meeting Marulanda," the president said.

Pressure

It is the seventh time the Colombian leader has renewed the safe haven since he first declared it off limits to the army in November 1998, in an attempt to bring an end to four decades of conflict with the rebels.

Mr Pastrana had been under pressure not to grant another extension.

The announcement followed the ending of an armed hijacking incident in Colombia, which began inside the FARC safe haven.

A man suspected of being a FARC deserter took over a passenger airliner in the southern town of San Vicente del Caguan and forced the crew to fly to Bogota, the Colombian capital.

But in Bogota, the hijacker was overpowered by the plane's captain and all 30 passengers and crew are reported to be safe and well.

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See also:

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
Welcome to Farclandia
16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
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