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Guerrilla Group Lays Down Weapons, But Other Rebels Refuse To Disarm

March 9, 1990

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A guerrilla chief says his fighters have ended a 16-year struggle that included the 1985 takeover of Palace of Justice, in which 11 Supreme Court justices and more than 100 others were killed.

Other rebel groups, however, refused to follow the decision Thursday by the April 19 Movement, or M-19, to begin disarming and to accept a government amnesty.

The M-19 leader, Carlos Pizarro, now is seeking power within the political structure as a candidate for mayor of Bogota in elections Sunday. He and President Virgilio Barco are to sign the final peace accord Saturday.

In a ceremony Thursday, the guerrilla group turned 65 weapons over to an international committee headed by a Venezuelan general, Ernesto Uscategui. The committee included Socialist International delegates from Chile, Britain, Finland and Switzerland.

Pizarro gave up his 9mm automatic pistol, Caracol radio network reported.

Pizarro then told about 800 followers in the southern town of Santo Domingo to hang up their battle fatigues and prepare to fight for peace, said Hernando Correa, an Interior Ministry spokesman in Bogota.

Radio reports had placed the number of M-19 followers in the town at 1,800.

M-19 spokesman Ramiro Lucio told reporters all the rebels’ weapons would be turned over in Santo Domingo and nearby Hobo.

Radio reports said the government was planning to melt down the weapons and use the metal to forge a monument to peace.

Five other guerrilla groups including the National Liberation Army, blamed for 293 kidnappings in the first two months of the year, say they will keep up their armed struggles.

The National Liberation Army has pledged never to negotiate with the government. As part of its campaign to disrupt Sunday’s congressional and municipal elections, the group Wednesday and Thursday kidnapped 10 people, including election officials, police and political leaders, a police statement said.

But M-19′s action Thursday disarms an outfit that mounted some daring rebel attacks. In 1980, it took the U.S. ambassador and 15 other envoys hostage. Five years later, its capture of the Palace of Justice and battle with security forces led to the deaths of 115 people, including 11 Supreme Court justices.

The disarmament came after 13 months of peace talks with the Barco administration in Santo Domingo.

M19 promised to abandon its armed struggle and transform itself into a political party in exchange for amnesty.

The movement directed its campaign against capitalism and U.S. ″imperialism’ ′ and had links with other Latin American underground groups.

Pizarro had previously thanked Pope John Paul II for the Roman Catholic Church’s mediation in the talks. In a message Thursday to the papal nuncio, Angelo Acerbi, the M19 leader asked the pope to pray for peace in Colombia.

Acerbi was one of the 16 ambassadors taken hostage by the M19 on Feb. 27, 1980, when the group seized the Dominican Republic Embassy in Bogota.

The embassy takeover ended two months later, and unconfirmed reports said the government paid up to $2 million for the release of the hostages, including U.S. Ambassador Diego Asencio.

The M19, formed in 1974, takes its name from the date of 1970 presidential elections, which it claimed were fraudulent.

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