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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 03:24 GMT
FARC demands bilateral truce
Low from left, Colombia┐s peace commissioner, Camilo Gomez; FARC negotiator, Raul Reyes; and UN envoy, James LeMoyne with some of the diplomats who facilitated the talks
Sunday's optimism was undercut by FARC's recent attacks
The main left-wing rebel group in Colombia, FARC, has announced it will continue its military offensive, despite the resumption of peace talks with the government, aimed at signing a ceasefire by April.

A spokesman for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Raul Reyes, said the rebels would only agree to a bilateral truce.

Colombian soldier passes bodies of dead comrades at site of ambush at Pichinde, near Cali
Tens of thousands have died in 38 years of war
He said they would maintain their offensive as long as the army and the paramilitaries continued their operations.

More than 80 have been killed in FARC attacks over the past 10 days.

President Andres Pastrana and other senior politicians have called on the rebels to cease their attacks and focus on finding a peaceful solution to the country's 38-year-old civil war.

Deal reached

The sides have been meeting inside a safe haven in southern Colombia which was ceded by the government to the FARC in 1998.

On Sunday, they reached an agreement which was the most concrete step towards peace in three years of negotiations.

The only thing we have to say to Mr Pastrana is that his good will gets confused with faintheartedness

Right-wing paramilitary AUC
Among other things, they agreed that the rebels would try to stop roadside kidnappings, while the government would try to rein in right-wing paramilitaries that have been targeting FARC.

But recent actions by FARC have undercut the optimism over Sunday's progress.

The guerrillas attacked the country's power supply, destroying 28 power lines, and forcing power rationing in several areas.

On Tuesday they set up road blocks, set two trucks on fire and hijacked another seven.

Paramililtaries intransigent

In an attack last Friday, guerrillas fired on a US helicopter that was escorting a drug crop-dusting plane, forcing it to make an emergency landing near rebel-held territory.

The pilot was evacuated unhurt with the rest of the crew, but five Colombian police officers sent to rescue the helicopter were killed in a fierce battle with some 300 heavily-armed FARC rebels.

The government has criticised FARC's actions, but at the same time it has not succeeded in gaining the cooperation of the right-wing paramilitaries.

The United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), issued a statement saying it refused to join the ceasefire talks.

"The only thing we have to say to Mr Pastrana is that his good will gets confused with faintheartedness," the AUC said on Monday.

Call for US help

President Pastrana, meanwhile, has called on Washington to widen its involvement in Colombia's civil war, in order to secure the oil supply from the South American country to the United States.

Colombia is America's 10th-biggest provider of oil, but the supply is dwindling because of left-wing rebel attacks.

Mr Pastrana told the Associated Press news agency that he would ask to have American soldiers train Colombian troops to protect oil pipelines, bridges and other infrastructure from rebel attacks.

Until now, the US restricted its aid mainly to Colombia's efforts to combat narcotics.

"Today, the world is ready to unite against those who are attacking the interests of nations - and in this case the interest is energy," Mr Pastrana said.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | Americas
Last-ditch deal in Colombia
16 Jan 02 | Media reports
Peace talks dominate Colombia papers
15 Jan 02 | Americas
Peace process continues - Pastrana
19 Jan 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
The most feared man in Colombia
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