HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Colombian Rightists Declare Cease-fire As Prelude To
Pubdate: Sat, 30 Nov 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Author: Juan Forero


BOGOTA, Colombia, Nov. 29 - A rightist paramilitary force that is 
responsible for most of the deaths in Colombia's conflict declared today 
that it would call a unilateral cease-fire to begin Sunday as a first step 
toward peace talks with President alvaro Uribe's government.

The force, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which is classified 
as a terrorist organization by the United States, said on its Web site that 
it had "taken the historic decision of declaring a unilateral cease-fire 
nationwide." The announcement came after Mr. Uribe, in comments to 
reporters on Monday, confirmed that his government had been holding secret 
meetings with paramilitary leaders to explore the prospects for peace.

"There is no deal," Mr. Uribe said. "There is simply the first 
manifestation of a willingness for peace. For it to start, there is a 
government demand that there be a pledge to not kill one more Colombian."

In a 12-point document signed by Carlos Castano, leader of the Self-Defense 
Forces, and other top commanders, the organization said it would cease 
offensive operations against leftist rebels and their supporters. The 
statement said that because the government was "demonstrating its capacity 
and political will" against the rebels, the Self-Defense Forces were able 
to halt antiguerrilla operations.

Mr. Uribe, who won the presidency in May after promising to crack down on 
the leftist rebels, has been under pressure from foreign diplomats and 
rights groups to bring the rightist paramilitaries under control as well. 
Upon winning, he announced his willingness to talk with them, breaking with 
a long-held policy against negotiating with them.

Fernando Giraldo, a political analyst at Javeriana University in Bogota, 
said that if a deal was reached with the paramilitaries, it would give the 
government the moral high ground in its dealings with the two rebel groups, 
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation 
Army. Each has broken off talks in the past, arguing that the government 
had not done enough to control the paramilitaries.

"If the government is able to achieve the demobilization of the 
Self-Defense Forces it gains the moral authority to demand the disarmament 
of the FARC and the E.L.N.," Mr. Giraldo said, referring to the rebels by 
their Spanish initials.

The Self-Defense Forces, a confederation of regional factions with as many 
as 12,000 armed fighters, has sought to erode support for the rebels by 
carrying out hundreds of killings annually. Though supported financially by 
ranchers and other wealthy Colombians, the organization draws most of its 
money from taxing coca farmers and drug dealers and, the United States 
says, trafficking in cocaine.

Today's developments come two months after the United States indicted three 
top paramilitary leaders, including Mr. Castano, on drug-trafficking charges.

The indictments by a federal grand jury in Washington worsened friction 
within the organization, which has been splintering in recent months as 
commanders have weighed how heavily involved in the drug trade they should 
remain. The standoff is so serious that two factions in the group are 
openly fighting, the commanders of both sides said in recent interviews, 
and alliances between others are in tatters.

The Bush administration did not immediately comment on developments today, 
but American authorities have said they would seek the extradition of Mr. 
Castano and other paramilitary leaders if they are ever captured. Mr. 
Castano at one point offered to surrender to fight drug charges in the 
United States, but American authorities never took the offer seriously. He 
is still at large.

A Bush administration official said recently, "It was our goal to show that 
these guys were very much involved in drug trafficking, even though they 
say they're not, that drug trafficking is their lifeblood and we were going 
to go after them."

In its statement the Self-Defense Forces asked that the United Nations, the 
Roman Catholic Church and the Organization of American States participate 
in the talks, and appealed for a suspension of "legal actions" against the 
paramilitary leaders.

The talks with the government underscore the willingness of at least some 
leaders in the paramilitary organization to find a resolution to the 
conflict. Political analysts, noting that the paramilitaries have served as 
a proxy force for the military in fighting the rebels, said that this 
willingness could help any new peace talks proceed much faster than those 
of President Andres Pastrana's government, which took place only with the 
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