Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Regional talks accepted in Colombia / Germany’s role
miz. BOGOTA, February 20. Although the past weeks have witnessed repeated outbreaks of heavy fighting in various parts of the country between the Colombian armed forces and the two largest guerrilla groups, the Ejército Nacional de Liberación (ELN) and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), some hints of slow progress in the negotiations between them and the government in Bogotá are beginning to emerge. Negotiations with the leadership of the ELN, the most radical of the leftist guerrilla groups, have tended to be regarded as one of the major stumbling blocks to peace in Colombia, a country that has been torn by civil war for more than 30 years.
Though agreement on a time scale and conditions for comprehensive negotiations has been beyond the combined efforts of the so-called Peace Commission representatives, Garcia Peña and Noé Ríos, and representatives of the central commands of the ELN and the FARC, the government’s announcement of its willingness to “conduct dialogue at regional level” in future has been greeted with guarded optimism.
The government’s most recent proposal, which has apparently also been largely endorsed by the guerrillas, suggests that in “individual cases” direct negotiations could take place between the regional guerrilla groups and representatives of the provincial governors. However, according to capital sources, President Samper’s government is reserving the right to examine such regional talks on a “case to case” basis and if necessary provide a negotiating brief, but with a time limitation upon it. Despite this progress, the prospects for an end to the long conflict are slim. Along with the government, the army and the guerrillas, participants include narcotics cartels, hundreds of paramilitary groups and many violent, nationally operating Mafia organisations.
Meanwhile German involvement in the peace process in the Latin American country is once again a talking point. At the end of January, after touring several Colombian cities, German Bundestag vice-president Klose of the Social Democratic Party said that Germany was “very much interested in seeing peace established in Colombia.” Germany would be willing to become involved, said Klose, if this were the wish of the Colombians. Information on the peace proposals made by the ELN guerrillas, of which Klose was also made aware during his stay in Colombia, has recently been made known. Germany had discontinued its efforts as peace mediator between the government and the ELN more than six months ago, when, according to Bonn, the necessary conditions for a continuation of the negotiations were no longer in place. Among the points worked out during the course of last week’s ELN national congress and presented recently in Medellin (the document is in the hands of a central government authority with responsibility for human rights) are the recognition of the ELN as a political force and a proposal that Germany be brought in as official mediator.
According to this document, the ELN is prepared to sign a full ceasefire agreement with the Colombian government – with Germany as sole mediator.