Colombia Wants U.S. as Peace Talks Partner


Colombian President Andres Pastrana urged the Bush administration Monday to send an envoy to peace talks with the South American country’s largest and most dangerous rebel organization despite a long-standing U.S. policy of refusing to deal with the insurgents.

“It is important that the United States be there to directly exchange points of view,” Pastrana told a small group of reporters at breakfast before meetings on Capitol Hill and at the White House. Earlier this month, Pastrana and rebel leaders agreed to resume peace talks aimed at ending 40 years of guerrilla warfare.

President Bush inherited from previous administrations a policy of refusing to deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish initials FARC, because of their human rights record. Pastrana said Bush “should change that policy.”


Last week, the Colombian government and the FARC joined in inviting the United States and Cuba to participate in the talks. It was the first time that FARC leaders agreed on a role for the international community.

“It will be good for the [negotiations] to have the United States there,” Pastrana said, calling on Washington to join the process for the long haul, much as it has in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

At the same time, Pastrana sought to reassure Americans that U.S. troops won’t become bogged down in Colombia. He said the 300 or so U.S. troops deployed in Colombia, mostly Green Berets, are there to train his government’s counter-narcotics battalions, not to fight the guerrillas.

“We are not willing to accept direct involvement” of U.S. troops in the combat, he said.

Bush said last week that he will not permit U.S. troops to go beyond the training role. The American soldiers, backed by about 70 Pentagon civilian contractors, are in Colombia as part of a $1.3-billion aid program intended to combat narcotics trafficking.

Pastrana left no doubt that his government hopes the Bush administration will continue the military assistance. But he said Colombia also needs more economic aid and increased trade with the United States to alleviate economic problems that have created incentives for poor Colombians to join the FARC, the smaller National Liberation Army or right-wing paramilitary groups. The paramilitaries, recruited and paid by landowners for defense against the rebels, have been accused of massive human rights violations, sometimes in collusion with units of the armed forces.

Pastrana, scheduled to meet with Bush at the White House today, said his 2 1/2-year-old government has made progress on reviving the Colombian economy, slowing the drug trade, ending human rights abuses by government forces and reforming the military.


Congress attached a number of conditions--most of them intended to break ties between the army and the paramilitaries--to its appropriation of military aid for Colombia last year. Former President Clinton determined that Colombia had not satisfied all of the conditions, but he exercised a section of the law allowing him to waive the requirements if Colombia was making progress.

Pastrana insisted that his government “is committed to controlling . . . violations of human rights.” He said it has launched a concerted effort to rein in the paramilitary groups, targeting their leadership and their financing.

The State Department, in its annual report on human rights around the world, said Monday that the Colombian government’s “human rights record remained poor; there were some improvements in the legal framework and in institutional mechanisms, but implementation lagged and serious problems remain in many areas.”