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Colombia Offers Amnesty to Paramilitaries, Rebels Appeal to UN

President Uribe wants to disarm right-wing leaders accused of crimes against humanity by offering them immunity. Kofi Annan supports FARC's request for a meeting

As the South American nation celebrated on Sunday its Independence Day chanting "peace for Colombia", Uribe's government weighs a controversial decision that has received criticism from human rights organizations: to offer an amnesty to paramilitaries facing crimes against humanity charges if they disarm. At the same time, country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, called for a meeting with UN envoy James LeMoyne to explain "a much more objective reality about the internal conflict."

 

As such, in conflict that takes 3,500 lives a year, right-wing paramilitary chiefs will not go into jail if they follow through with a "promise" to disarm. The statement came from Luis Carlos Restrepo, nation's peace commissioner who also said that the government was looking instead for alternative ways for them to pay for their crimes, such as financial compensation to families of their victims.

 

Colombia's paramilitary forces have been accused of being responsible for country's civil war largest atrocities, including large-scale massacres of civilians allegedly to be collaborators of leftist rebels. They have been also appointed as acting as a parallel army to protect landowners and industry barons linked to drug trafficking. Such accusations explain human rights activist outrage with Uribe's decision.

 

"This is absolutely unacceptable. It is the definition of impunity," said to AP Robin Kirk of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. "We are very disappointed." Three top leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, largest paramilitary group, face drug trafficking charges in the US.

 

According to Mr. Kirk, one of the primary dangers of failing to prosecute the paramilitary chiefs is that leaders of the leftist rebels will insist on the same conditions in any future peace process. According to these organizations, both rebels and paramilitaries kidnap, extort and traffic drugs to finance their 40-year war.

 

FARC, in turn, has said it is ready to talk peace, but has demanded a safe haven and other conditions the current government refuses to accept. They have asked for a meeting with Kofi Annan's commissioner to set up the basis of a new dialogue. UN Secretary General, in response, regarded the FARC request for a meeting as a positive sign, but has insisted that FARC to release all hostages held. Official figures indicate that left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries kidnap around 3,000 people in Colombia every year.

 

Despite these disturbing numbers, there is an official optimism on the success of the possible agreement with the right-wing militias to adhere to a cease-fire. However, no efforts have been made to approach to the leftist rebels, who may be looking for international sponsorship. Some Latin American observers believe the government's preference for the negotiations with the right-wing forces could lead to an increasing in the military actions of the insurgency. In fact, FARC has threatened to kill all candidates for October municipal elections, saying they and their families will be declared military targets.

 

Perhaps, Uribe's policy to negotiate with the right and fight the left could threat the fragile situation of the Colombian democracy itself. Like in Germany's Weimar Republic, when the Army denied to crackdown on Kapp's putsch, and the system was saved by the general strike declared by the left.

 

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