Colombian Militias Offer Peace
Jul. 27, 1998
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Right-wing paramilitary groups that for years have imposed a reign of terror in the Colombian countryside said Monday they would join nationwide peace talks to end a 34-year civil war.
In a statement, leaders representing the country's main paramilitary groups also promised to avoid attacks on civilians and the recruitment of children, and to treat rebel prisoners humanely.
A civilian peace commission met Sunday with top militia leaders in Cordoba province, a paramilitary stronghold in northern Colombia.
President-elect Andres Pastrana, who takes office August 7, has agreed to peace talks during the first 90 days of his administration with leftist rebels who have been fighting the Colombian state since the 1960s.
``We celebrate the peace initiatives of the president elect ... and we commit ourselves to participate in all the necessary steps with discretion, seriousness and responsibility,'' said a joint statement of the paramilitary leaders and the civilian commission.
The civilian delegates agreed to ask the government to conduct peace talks with the paramilitary groups while negotiations with the rebels take place separately.
Human rights groups accuse the paramilitary groups, who are financed by landowners and drug traffickers and supported by rogue army elements, of killing civilians they suspect are rebels and forcing hundreds of thousands of Colombians to flee their homes out of fear.
Both the rebels and the militias have said they will not lay down arms unless the other side does so first.
Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army, pledged this month to scale back kidnappings and eventually cease attacks against foreign-run oil pipelines.
Despite the promise, rebels from the smaller Popular Liberation Army are suspected of kidnapping a ruling party congressman, Gerardo Tamayo, who stopped at a guerrilla roadblock Monday.