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The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia
"The meeting is aimed at saving what seems to be a deadlocked peace process."
 real 28k

Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 12:43 GMT
New Colombia peace effort
Manuel Marulanda, FARC leader, meets Colombian high peace commissioner Camilo Gomez (in white)
Mr Marulanda (right) met a government negotiator on Wednesday
Colombian President Andres Pastrana is to meet the leader of the country's biggest rebel group, the FARC, on Thursday in an effort to keep the peace process alive.

Mr Pastrana will travel to the demilitarised zone - a safe haven for the rebels - he created more than two years ago in a concession to the FARC that has proved unpopular with Colombians.

FARC soldier in front of anti-Plan Colombia poster
FARC regards Plan Colombia as US imperialism
Observers say there is little hope of a major breakthrough, but the talks should encourage Mr Pastrana to extend the demilitarised zone beyond its current 9 February expiry date.

The FARC staged a show of force on Wednesday in advance of Mr Pastrana's visit, with about 100 guerrillas practicing a drill in the town of San Vicente.

Fighting for four decades

The Marxist movement is Colombia's oldest - it has been fighting for 37 years - and most powerful, with between 12,000 and 16,000 fighters.

Its leader, Manuel Marulanda, is expected to discuss three issues with Mr Pastrana on Thursday:

  • the exchange of prisoners

  • right-wing paramilitary violence against actual or perceived FARC supporters

  • President Pastrana's US-backed Plan Colombia, aimed at reducing the cocaine trade on which the FARC is believed to rely for its funds

It will be the third face-to-face meeting between the two men.

FARC soldier
About 100 FARC guerrillas marched on Wednesday
Mr Pastrana has staked his career on bringing an end to the violence that causes the death of about 3,000 Colombians a year.

His creation of a 42,000sq km safe haven for the FARC has been widely criticised in Colombia, and a rebel demand to create a similar demilitarised zone for another guerrilla group, the ELN, has not gone down well with the public.

Critics say Mr Pastrana has made too many concessions, while the rebels have continued fighting, recruiting and distributing propaganda.

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See also:

05 Feb 01 | Americas
Colombians angry over rebel zone
04 Feb 01 | Americas
Analysis: FARC holds all the cards
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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