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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 00:41 GMT
Colombia peace talks back on
FARC commander Raul Reyes greets peace protesters in front of where talks were held in Los Pozos
FARC commander Raul Reyes greets peace protesters
Leftist rebels in Colombia have agreed to resume talks with the government, hours before a deadline for their withdrawal from their safe haven in the south of the country.

On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will return to the peace talks, which have been stalled since last October.

UN envoy James LeMoyne jokes with a rebel
FARC has thanked UN envoy LeMoyne for his efforts
Rebel negotiator Raul Reyes, said that the FARC was satisfied that military controls placed around the safe haven would not endanger the peace talks.

This development could pull the country back from the brink of full-scale military action, a BBC correspondent in Colombia says, as government troops had been preparing to take back the FARC zone and pursue the rebels into the jungle.

Click here for a map of the FARC's safe haven

The breakthrough was announced by France's ambassador to Colombia, Daniel Parfait, who was acting as spokesman for 10 ambassadors who had flown to the demilitarised zone to broker a last-ditch accord.

"The group of facilitating countries states that conditions exist to resume talks immediately," said Mr Parfait.

Colombian soldiers outside the FARC demilitarised zone
The breakthrough could prevent full-scale military action
President Andres Pastrana was expected to address the nation later on Monday, but Mr Parfait said both the Colombian leader and the FARC leadership had accepted the deal.

UN envoy James LeMoyne, who had played an active role in mediating between the sides, said the agreement had the full backing of the United Nations.

"We thank Mr LeMoyne, who has contributed so much to this work for peace," said a senior FARC commander, Raul Reyes, after Mr Parfait's announcement.

Hours before deadline

The Colombian army had been moving a 12,000-strong contingent backed by helicopter gunships to the edge of the zone, as the FARC dismantled their checkpoints and began to move out from the zone's five main towns.

There are an estimated 16,500 FARC rebels, armed mainly with Kalashnikov assault rifles.

Safe haven
Created in November 1998
Size of Switzerland
Population at least 100,000
Has its own FARC-run courts and radio station
The FARC had agreed to leave by 0230 GMT on Tuesday after Colombian President Andres Pastrana rejected their draft proposal for salvaging peace talks on Saturday night.

Residents had said they were terrified of reprisals by right-wing paramilitaries who, they feared, would fill the vacuum left by a FARC retreat.

Mr Pastrana had previously set a deadline of 0230 GMT on Sunday for the rebels to return to the negotiating table unconditionally.

A failure to bring the rebels back to the negotiating table would have ended three years of efforts to end the 37-year old war, which has claimed 40,000 lives in the past decade alone.

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The BBC's Claire Marshall reports from Bogota
"UN envoy James LeMoyne is said to be jubilant at the agreement"
See also:

13 Jan 02 | Media reports
FARC communique: 'Warmongers win'
12 Jan 02 | Media reports
Peace pessimism in Colombian press
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