Pubdate: Mon, 25 Oct 1999
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 1999 The Washington Post Company
Address: 1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Kirk Semple, Special to The Washington Post


Millions Urge Quick End to Violence

BOGOTA, Colombia, Oct. 24--Millions of Colombians marched today in anti-war
protests as long-awaited peace talks began between the Colombian government
and the country's largest rebel group.

The event involved at least 10 million protesters across Colombia, according
to Francisco Santos, news editor of the Bogota daily El Tiempo. Thousands
more were involved in parallel demonstrations around the world in an
astonishing display of unified anger in a country battered by nearly four
decades of armed conflict that has killed at least 30,000 people. Marchers
are hoping that the protests will spur negotiators to reach a quick
resolution to the violence.

Marches took place in more than 600 Colombian cities, towns and villages,
said Santos, who is also a key organizer of the peace campaign, known as "No
Mas!"--No More. Police said more than 2 million marched in Bogota, the
capital. None of the crowd estimates could be independently confirmed.

Demonstrators, many of whom wore white shirts and carried white banners and
white flags emblazoned with the words "No Mas!", transformed asphalt avenues
into long, white ribbons of humanity.

"The entire country wants peace," said David Molina, 29, a former leftist
guerrilla who disarmed in 1991. Now unemployed and using a wheelchair as a
result of an assassination attempt several years ago, Molina participated in
the Bogota march with other former guerrillas who were wedged between a
phalanx of police and soldiers and representatives of the secret police.

"Today we don't have any resentment," he said. "We all just want peace."

Meanwhile, government and guerrilla negotiators met in the farming town of
Uribe to restart the tenuous peace process after a three-month hiatus. Both
sides began discussing a 12-point negotiating agenda that includes human
rights, agricultural policy, political and judicial reform, and the fight
against corruption and drug trafficking.

The peace process has stumbled along since the Colombian government
temporarily pulled its security troops out of an area the size of
Switzerland as a concession to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC). After settling on the sweeping negotiating agenda in May,
the talks deadlocked over President Andres Pastrana's demand that an
international verification committee be allowed to enter the zone to monitor
rebel activity. Faced with resolute FARC opposition, Pastrana dropped his
demand and proceeded with talks.

During the opening ceremony, government peace commissioner Victor G. Ricardo
referred to the demonstrations. "Whoever thinks that the mass marches of
today and tomorrow are exclusively against the guerrillas is wrong," he
declared. "No, ladies and gentlemen. What those multitudes want, what they
ask for, what they will have is social, political and economic justice that
creates conditions [for] peace."

Borrowing from the marchers' rallying cry, the FARC's lead negotiator, Raul
Reyes, said, "No more gringo military aid. No more displaced people. No more
exiles. No more meddling of the North American state in the internal affairs
of Colombia. No more privatizations . . . No more Colombians without
housing. No more criminalization of social protest. No more discrimination
against women and ethnic communities."

Today's demonstrations were the most recent in a series of marches that
began in May.

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