Colombian peace talks stretch to a second day
From staff and wire reports
SAN VICENTE, Colombia -- Colombian President Andres Pastrana will spend the night in rebel-controlled territory within his own country after eight hours of talks Thursday with rebel commanders failed to bring the peace agreement he came to southern Colombia to achieve.
Aides to Pastrana told CNN that his decision to stay overnight in the "safe haven," which his government conceded to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in a bid to end the country's protracted civil war, was a "goodwill gesture" to the FARC and the talks would resume in the morning.
Pastrana flew in to the guerrilla-held enclave on Thursday. An honor guard of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas saluted the 46-year-old center-right president as he descended from his Colombian Air Force jet at the airport of San Vicente del Caguan in the country's south.
"It is going to be OK. I am optimistic," Pastrana said on arriving for the latest round of talks with the rebels.
He was driven off in pouring tropical rain for a cross-country trip to a private meeting with veteran FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to try to get talks back on track for ending the 37-year-old war that has claimed 35,000 civilian lives in the past 10 years.
Pastrana, who had been under fire from political opponents for not squeezing more concessions from the FARC, surprised the nation last week when he demanded to see Marulanda as a condition for allowing the rebels to continue their control of a Switzerland-sized enclave.
It will be the third time Pastrana has met the 69-year-old guerrilla chief since he gave the FARC control of the demilitarized zone in 1998. The rebels are accused of using the enclave to build strength, hold civilians for ransom and tend a flourishing cocaine business.
The never-easy peace process slipped into crisis last November when the 17,000-member FARC -- Colombia's largest rebel group -- walked out of formal negotiations, accusing Pastrana of taking insufficient action against right-wing paramilitary death squads.
The president needs to leave the meeting with some sort of gesture from Marulanda that will allow him to build flagging public support in the peace process.
One of the issues is the release of some of the 500-odd military prisoners being held by the FARC.
Marulanda wants to talk about the paramilitaries and Pastrana's "Plan Colombia" anti-cocaine offensive, which is backed by $1 billion in U.S. military aid.
The FARC opposes Plan Colombia, saying the aid is being used to fight them. The army says the FARC is itself involved in and financed by illegal drugs.
Pastrana wants the rebels to collaborate in joint crop substitution and eradication programs in coca cultivating areas.
The FARC says it wants to deal with social and economic inequalities through agrarian reform. It would like to share power with the government to implement needed social change and to do away with institutional corruption.
But most urgent is the need to address the issue of prisoners, as both sides have taken thousands captive.
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