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Colombian Rebels Face New Adversary

January 3, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Guerrillas fighting in the name of Colombia’s poor are facing a new and unexpected adversary: unarmed villagers willing to stand them down.

Townspeople in three provinces swarmed the streets on New Year’s Eve to repel armed attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Some waved white flags and others sang the national anthem while they faced the heavily armed rebels

The civic outbursts followed similar protests in three other towns that made front page news here recently and drew applause and encouragement from officials including President Andres Pastrana.

Some hope the bravery of the villagers could be the seed of a pacifist movement that will take root across the South American country, and help pressure guerrillas to make peace. Others caution that fear will limit how far the civic resistance will go _ especially after one protester was shot dead by guerrillas.

Either way, the protests have underscored the growing unpopularity of the rebels, who frequently assault poor towns, rob their banks, kill and kidnap police officers and demolish buildings with machine guns and mortars.

Colombia’s war, now in its 38th year, pits the FARC and another guerrilla group against the U.S.-backed military and an outlawed right-wing paramilitary group. The violence only appears to be escalating, despite nearly three years of peace talks between Pastrana and the FARC.

Until this week, the civil resistance had been concentrated in Cauca, a western province known for social organizing in part due to its large native Indian population. Residents of three Cauca towns attacked by the FARC in November and December effectively turned back guerrilla attacks by staging protests in the middle of the fighting.

Now, the trend is spreading.

This week, civic protests took place in towns in southern Narino and Caqueta state.

The one in Caqueta, in the town of Belen de Andaguies, was seen as particularly significant because the town lies close to the main headquarters of the FARC.

Officials on Wednesday were quick to cheer on the protesters.

``We are expecting all of the Colombian community to reject violence and the violent people involved in this type of attack against a civilian population,″ Carlo Jurado, Caqueta’s police chief, told reporters.

Though the latest protests are unprecedented, Colombians have come out before to reject violence. Two years ago, millions marched in anti-war protests around the country. The marches were never repeated and failed to spark any sustained peace movement.

Nor did they put unarmed people directly in the cross fire. Analysts say the bloody outcome of one of the New Year’s Eve protests, in the Cauca town of Purace, may stifle any budding pacifist movement.

Rebels allegedly shot and killed Jimmy Alberto Guana, a 21-year-old law student. Guana was leading hundreds of villagers into the streets in an effort to ward off the attack. When the guerrillas were done with the attack, two policemen lay dead and the police post and other buildings were demolished.

``If the FARC withdrew every time an incident of civil resistance happened, I think civil resistance would be imitated and would become an answer to the guerrillas all over the country,″ former Interior Minister Fernando Cepeda said.

``But after what happened, I don’t think civil resistance has a future.″

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