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Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 09:08 GMT
Colombia right-wing truce takes force
Colombian army escorts suspected AUC members
The army has put the AUC under pressure
A unilateral and indefinite ceasefire declared by Colombia's largest right-wing paramilitary group, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), has come into force.

Two other paramilitary groups have pledged to join the ceasefire, bringing the number of guerrillas who will lay down their arms to 12,000.

The AUC says it is now ready to take up dialogue with the government, but it is likely to be difficult for President Alvaro Uribe's administration to meet all their demands.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Medellin says the AUC's great enemy, the left-wing rebels, are likely to take advantage of the ceasefire to conquer parts of the country controlled by the right-wingers, leaving peace still a long way off.

Brutal faction

The AUC is now hoping to demobilise its 10,500 members, but wants the government to pay them until the process is complete, allowing the group to move away from the drugs trade it relies on for cash.

The paramilitaries also want an amnesty and for imprisoned militia men - many serving sentences for murder, kidnapping and drugs trafficking - to be freed.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe
Uribe: Ceasefire essential before negotiations

President Uribe has been under particular pressure to rein in the AUC - described by our correspondent as probably the most brutal faction in Colombia's civil war.

Bankrolled by landowners - including drugs barons - the AUC was set up in 1997 to eradicate Marxist guerrillas and carried out numerous massacres and assassinations.

The group murdered thousands of people in cold blood as it targeted left-wing leaders and sympathisers.

Secret talks

Our correspondent says the AUC has been hit hard by the security forces and guerrilla enemies and now wants political recognition.

The Colombian Government confirmed on Monday that it had been holding secret talks with the AUC.

The government's peace commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, met AUC leaders following mediation by Catholic bishops.

Mr Uribe's government has said that although it is open to talks with any armed group a ceasefire is a firm condition for negotiations to end the country's bloody 38-year conflict.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"Probably the most brutal warring faction in the country"

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