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US Meets With Colombia Rebel Group

January 4, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A U.S. representative met with a Colombian guerrilla group accused of terrorism after the Colombian government requested the session, a U.S. spokesman said Monday.

The meeting somewhere in Costa Rica in mid-December with representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was ``to demonstrate our support for the Colombian peace process″ and to press the group to account for kidnapped U.S. citizens in Colombia, said spokesman James Rubin.

He said the U.S. representative at the meeting also urged the group to halt further attacks against U.S. citizens and businesses in Colombia and advised the rebels that U.S.-Colombian counter-narcotics efforts, including crop eradication by aircraft ``are nonnegotiable and will be continued.″

Rubin declined to say exactly when or where the meeting took place. It was first reported by Colombian news media over the weekend. He said no further meetings are scheduled but further encounters might be considered.

The U.S. representative in the meeting was Phil Chicola, director of the State Department’s Andean affairs office in Washington, officials said.

The spokesman said that although FARC is designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, this does not preclude meeting with FARC ``or any other foreign terrorist organization if we determine that such a meeting is consistent with our interests, including bringing an end to Colombia’s long-running civil conflict and to the terrorist attacks that accompany it.″

Rubin said U.S. officials do not expect the first contact with the rebels to generate immediate results but viewed it as an opportunity to carry a message of U.S. policy directly to the rebels. He said it did not include any negotiation with the group.

FARC, with a force of 15,000, is opening talks with the Colombian government on Thursday, and U.S. officials see it as an opportunity to stem cocaine production in the country. FARC, which officials say has been protecting the drug trade, has indicated it might help attack drug traffickers as part of a peace settlement.

When questioned repeatedly by reporters about U.S. dealings with groups accused of terrorism, Rubin said, ``I think we are second to none in terms of the seriousness and the firmness with which we approach the problem of terrorism.″

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