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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 18:48 GMT 19:48 UK
Colombia rebels reject UN mediation
Damage from mortar blasts in Bogota
The president's inauguration was marred by violence
Colombia's main rebel group has rejected a government proposal for United Nations' mediation to end the long-running civil war.

The conflict could only be solved by the two sides involved - not by the UN which had played no part in the war, rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC) said.

FARC rebel
FARC rebels have targeted Uribe many times
The group said again it was willing to hold peace talks on certain conditions - including a government withdrawal from two southern provinces.

President Alvaro Uribe, who took office only two weeks ago promising a tough stance against all illegal armed groups, has ruled out peace talks until the rebels agree to a ceasefire.

In his latest move to counter the Marxist guerrilla threat, he plans to arm 20,000 poor farmers in rural areas.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Colombia since the outbreak in 1964 of civil war pitting left-wing rebels such as the FARC against government troops and paramilitaries.

Failed talks

The FARC's principal demand for dialogue - the state's withdrawal from the regions of Caqueta and Putumayo - is unlikely to be accepted, correspondents say.

The move would give the FARC de facto control over a huge area of countryside.

Under a similar deal, Mr Uribe's predecessor Andres Pastrana demilitarised five southern municipalities in return for the rebels resuming peace talks.

Alvaro Uribe
Uribe was closely protected at the inauguration
The FARC controlled the area for three years until the government abandoned the stagnant negotiations in February this year.

At his inauguration in Bogota on 7 August, Mr Uribe said he had asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to help efforts to seek dialogue to end hostilities.

Since assuming office, he has introduced a limited state of emergency, imposed a new war tax on the rich and begun setting up a huge network of civilian informers.

Possible abuses

He now proposes to arm poor farmers in rural areas to bolster the battered security forces - a move which has alarmed human rights groups.

As governor of troubled Antioquia province in the mid 1990s, Mr Uribe set up a similar system of rural security cooperatives.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota says several of these ended up working with the right-wing paramilitaries, carrying out massacres and assassinations of suspected guerrilla sympathisers.

The fear is that this new force will fall into the same system of abuses, our correspondent says.

Mr Uribe, a 50-year-old lawyer, won a landslide election victory in May after promising a crackdown but has since warned people not to "expect miracles".

In the past six months there have been three attempts on his life, including one which destroyed cars in his motorcade.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"Uribe now plans to arm peasants"

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