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Colombia, Rebels Meet in Cuba

January 29, 2002

HAVANA (AP) _ Representatives of Colombia’s government and its second-largest rebel group gathered in Cuba on Tuesday for a new round of negotiations after almost four years of on-and-off peace talks.

Few expect a concrete agreement from the talks with the 5,000-strong National Liberation Army, or ELN. The Cuban government said the discussions are scheduled begin Tuesday evening in Havana and end Thursday.

But Antonio Navarro, a Colombian lawmaker involved in the peace process, said the talks were a good sign because the alternative ``is more war.″

``No possibility for peace should be allowed to perish,″ Navarro, a former member of a now disarmed rebel group, said by telephone from Bogota. ``Nothing will be worked out by gunpoint.″

The goal of the talks is to evaluate achievements and obstacles in the dialogue between the ELN and President Andres Pastrana’s government, which is also trying to negotiate a cease-fire with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Navarro is traveling to Cuba for the talks with about 50 representatives of Colombian labor, business and private groups.

In Bogota, an ELN commander said in an interview shown on local television that the group would free the last hostage from a group of nine people it kidnapped in June 1999. The rebel commander did not say when the ELN would free Boris Rodriguez, who has been held for 31 months.

United Nations peace envoy James LeMoyne, who played a key role in talks with the FARC, was expected to arrive here later Tuesday for negotiations with the ELN.

Roughly 3,500 people die every year in Colombia’s 38-year war, which pits the two rebel groups against the government and an illegal right-wing paramilitary force.

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