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Colombian guerrillas open stronghold , plead case
From Steve Nettleton CNN.com correspondent
LOS POZOS, Colombia (CNN) -- In an unprecedented opening of its stronghold to the outside world, Colombia's largest guerrilla army on Friday welcomed diplomats from more than 20 countries to plead its case against increasing military and police firepower in the fight against drugs.
In this small hamlet on the fringe of the Amazon jungle, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- known by their Spanish acronym, the FARC -- invited ambassadors from Europe and the Americas to meet dozens of coca and poppy planters, who say that the government's fumigation efforts are destroying their farms, ruining their local economies and causing severe environmental damage.
The farmers and rebels want the international community to subsidize programs to develop alternative crops such as rubber, rice and cattle farming.
No specific promises
At the end of the day, the FARC won no specific promises of international aid to help farmers replace drug crops. But the leftist guerrilla army trumpeted the two-day conference as a success.
For them, the mere presence of world ambassadors on rebel-controlled territory was a diplomatic achievement. It was also an opportunity to sew seeds of disagreement within the international community over Plan Colombia -- a government carrot-and-stick plan to dramatically boost the strength of the military and police in the fight against drug trafficking.
Notably absent from the conference was the United States, whose Congress on Friday put the final touches on a two-year, $1.3 billion aid package that will significantly boost Plan Colombia.
The United States says its aid is not designed to help Colombia fight a war against guerrillas. But the FARC, which controls much of the territory that is a target of anti-drug efforts, sees the aid package as a direct threat.
Although the FARC and the government began peace talks last year, progress has been slow, and some political analysts fear that the U.S. military aid could cause the peace process to unravel.
Hope of cease-fire
With the fanfare of brass and drums in the background, international delegates, Colombian government representatives and the FARC's senior commanders on Friday shifted their talks from drugs to the peace process, which has traveled a slow and often rocky path these last 18 months.
The FARC -- which with an estimated 16,000 to 20,000 troops controls as much as 40 percent of the country -- pledged to remain at the negotiating table. Its reclusive chief, Manuel Marulanda, announced in a rare appearance that his guerrilla force would be willing to start talks on a permanent cease-fire. However, few believe that such an agreement can be reached anytime soon.
Formal negotiations resume next week -- just days before Colombian officials travel to Madrid on July 7 to drum up European support for Plan Colombia.
World - Colombian farmers plead for help from Europe, Americas, in war on drugs
Presidencia de la Republica (Spanish/English)
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