The UN special envoy to Bogota had said that some rebel groups are ideologically committed. The Government angrily criticized those declarations, opening a nation-wide debate over the question.
On its open offensive against leftist rebels groups, President Uribe's right wing administration is concerned about the way international organisms refer to the 39-year civil war. Taking into account the current global mood, Colombia's government is putting pressure on global institutions to include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – the FARC - and others on the list of world terrorist groups. Then, when the UN special envoy to Bogota, James LeMoyne, told a local newspaper that he believes some of the rebels are "ideologically committed" he touched off a big controversy.
Immediately, the Government reacted. Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez accused LeMoyne of "defending the interests of the terrorists". At the same time, business leaders made declarations to back the authorities' position and blamed LeMoyne for being "out of reality". "We are tired of hearing Mr. LeMoyne, who says many things that are true and other things that don't correspond with reality", said Eugenio Marulanda, head of the National Confederation of Chambers of Commerce.
Business’ reaction came as LeMoyne went further in his declarations. The UN envoy accused Colombia's upper classes of not making enough sacrifices in the country’s conflict. "I have two questions for the upper class of this country to respond to," LeMoyne told the newspaper El Tiempo. "First: Are your sons, nephews or grandsons in the army? ... Who makes the sacrifices in this country when there is combat?"
In fact, Army troops engaged in the fighting of insurgency come, mainly, from the lower classes of an impoverished population. LeMoyne also criticized Colombia's income distribution, making reference to figures showing that 64% of the population lives under the poverty line. "It is a mistake to think that FARC members are only drug traffickers and terrorists", asserted LeMoyne.
The UN envoy's comments outraged a Government that is very sensitive to such kind of declarations after a May 5 massacre, in which the FARC executed ten hostages. Then, the Government negotiated an exchange of prisoners from both sides; when the operation was up to take place in Colombia's jungle the military launched an operation to rescue the hostages using the force. Rebel forces executed them and disappeared into the jungle, frustrating the attack. Hostage relatives blamed the Government for their responsibility for the massacre.
To calm down the disputes, LeMoyne released a statement saying "the United Nations has never defended terrorism and in no way seeks to justify the violence of any armed group". The statement said any future UN effort to facilitate peace talks "requires an attempt to understand those involved in the conflict in order to deal with them, and reach a negotiated solution."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's spokesman defended LeMoyne at a news briefing in New York. "It was not Mr. LeMoyne's intention to take sides," said spokesman Fred Eckhard. "If what he said was interpreted in that way, I think he is seeking to assure the Government that he was not taking sides."
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