Colombian Newspapers Assail Drug Lord's Proposal for Talks

From Times Wire Services

The nation's two leading daily newspapers, El Tiempo and El Espectador, on Thursday denounced the idea of government talks with narcotics traffickers.

El Espectador's denunciation came as that newspaper suspended home deliveries in Medellin because of fear on the part of truck drivers and delivery personnel. Two of El Espectador's employees in Medellin were slain earlier this week by assassins working for drug barons.

Many newsstands in Medellin were not selling El Espectador, and vendors willing to sell it kept it beneath counters and slipped issues to customers on the sly.

Medellin, a city of 2 million people in northwestern Colombia, is the headquarters for the world's biggest cocaine cartel.

The accused head of that cartel, Pablo Escobar, made a new offer "to seek peace" in a letter to the opposition newspaper La Prensa, which published it Thursday.

Escobar, believed to be one of the world's richest men and often described as one of the most ruthless criminals on Earth, asked for a "direct dialogue" with the government. He suggested that talks be mediated by newspaper publishers and the Roman Catholic Church.

There was no comment on the letter from from the government, which has ruled out any dialogue with powerful cocaine barons since a war on drugs of unprecedented scope began Aug. 18.

El Espectador said in a lead editorial that drug traffickers' suggestion of talks, "under their irrevocable threats of extermination and continuing their injustices if they are not not heard out, would resemble a veritable surrender."

The newspaper, whose publisher was murdered by drug traffickers three years ago, said it is too late to forgive and forget.

El Tiempo, also in a leading editorial, said that El Espectador is a victim of "the gravest threat against the freedom of the press in the entire history of our republic."

"The fight is on today in Colombia. Sooner or later, if it is not won in this corner of America, it is going to crop up elsewhere, and other newspapers will become the victims," El Tiempo said.

El Tiempo and El Espectador, both allied with Colombia's ruling Liberal Party, are fierce competitors, but they have joined forces in the fight against drug traffickers and traditionally have supported each other in times of threats to freedom of the press.

Drug traffickers claimed responsibility for the slayings Tuesday of the El Espectador workers and threatened the kill the newspaper's 11 remaining employees in Medellin.

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