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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 07:31 GMT
Colombia's peace process collapses
Chief negotiator Camilo Gomez, right, leaves talks with FARC members
The peace process has produced very little
Colombian troops are preparing to retake control of a rebel-run enclave in the south of the country after the government broke off talks with the leftist group, ending a three-year peace process.

I have to tell Colombians that the FARC keeps placing obstacles in front of the peace process

President Andres Pastrana
Bogota has given the 16,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) until Friday night to leave a demilitarised area roughly the size of Switzerland

The area, which has effectively been run by the rebels as its own Marxist state, was ceded to them in 1998 to kick-start the talks.

President Andres Pastrana announced the end of the peace process in a nationally broadcast address to the nation on Wednesday night.

Click here for a map of the demilitarised zone

"Today I have to tell Colombians, with regret, but above all with realism and responsibility, that the FARC keeps placing obstacles in front of the peace process, making it impossible for us to keep advancing with the process.

"The FARC has 48 hours, as agreed, to retire from the zone," he said, referring to the original timeframe for them to abandon the safe haven if talks failed.

President Andres Pastrana
Pastrana has often swallowed his pride to deal with FARC
He blamed the rebels for failing to discuss substantive issues like a ceasefire, and instead quibbling about military controls outside the borders of the safe haven.

Chief peace negotiator Camilo Gomez has spent the past few days trying to revive the talks, which FARC walked out on three months ago in protest at military air patrols and restrictions on the zone imposed by the government.

Sensing the final collapse of the talks on Tuesday, FARC had blamed any failure on the military and the government, and threatened to intensify the war.

The country's civil war pits the FARC against the US-backed Colombian military and an outlawed right-wing military group. It claims roughly 3,500 lives each year.

The peace process to end nearly four decades of war was started by President Pastrana, who has since dedicated much of his time in office to the job.

Colombian soldiers
The Colombian army is backed by the US military
After three years of talks, the two sides have never reached a single agreement on a peace treaty, but correspondents say few people thought Mr Pastrana would abandon the negotiations so close to leaving office in August, after the next presidential elections.

During three years of talks Mr Pastrana has frequently bowed to the rebels' demands and renewed their rights to the enclave, even after high profile killings - including the murder in September of the attorney general's wife and recent kidnappings of congressmen.

In his address on Wednesday, Mr Pastrana said the search for peace had not ended.

"I will maintain the doors of dialogue and negotiation open," he said.

Click here to return

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota
"The FARC response to the breakdown of the peace process will no doubt be bloody and swift"
Former US Asst Secretary of State Bernard Aronson
"I think the responsibility for any breakdown rests with the FARC"
See also:

08 Jan 02 | Americas
Colombia's explosive mix
22 Dec 01 | Americas
Colombia resumes rebel dialogue
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