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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 15:39 GMT
FARC 'to resume peace talks'
Colombian soldiers with the body of a suspected FARC rebel, Aug 2000
Colombian troops have fought the FARC for 37 years
The head of Colombia's powerful left-wing rebel group has agreed to meet President Andres Pastrana to resume peace talks, a Colombian radio station has reported.

Manuel Marulanda, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), proposed starting talks with the Colombian president on 8 February, the RCN radio report said.

FARC leader Manuel
Mr Marulanda wants a prisoner exchange
The 70-year-old rebel leader's offer came two days after Mr Pastrana said in a televised address that he wanted to meet Mr Marulanda.

In order to entice Mr Marulanda to negotiate, on 31 January Mr Pastrana extended the demilitarised status of a safe haven zone controlled by the FARC.

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

Seventh haven extension

The president's four-day extension, hours before the zone's demilitarised status was due to expire, was the seventh since he created the safe haven in November 1998.

President Andres Pastrana
Mr Pastrana's course has been unpopular
He had been under pressure not to renew the safe haven, as little progress has been made in ending the FARC's 37-year-old guerilla war.

In a letter to the president, rebel leader Mr Marulanda - known as "Sure Shot" - said he wanted to discuss several subjects, including the exchange of prisoners, Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries, and the anti-drug operation Plan Colombia.

FARC pulled out of peace talks last November and President Pastrana has been publicly urging them to resume talks since then.

FARC 'must neogtiate'

In late January, he said he would only discuss exchanging prisoners if the rebels returned to the negotiating table.

But Mr Pastrana says he is prepared for either war or peace.

The Colombian army had deployed 11,000 troops at the borders of the 42,000-sq-km demilitarised zone, ready to move in if President Pastrana allowed it to lapse.

Critics of the safe haven said the FARC has used it to build up strength, import arms, export drugs and recruit minors.

A recent poll showed that nearly 90% of Colombians surveyed were opposed to the continuation of the demilitarised zone.

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