Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Latin America wants UN to help stop rebels fight

TOWARD PEACE The Rio Group is concerned about ongoing rebel violence in Colombia, but does not want to endorse outright outside military activities

REUTERS , CUSCO, PERU

Mexico's President Vicente Fox poses with a native Peruvian dressed as an Inca during the closing ceremony of the Rio Group summit in the Inca's Sacsahuaman fortress in Cuzco. The Rio Group meeting was held in the former Inca capital.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Latin American leaders urged the UN on Saturday to do more to stop rebel violence in Colombia, but stopped short of endorsing outside military action in the Andean nation's bloody four-decade war.

"We presidents of the Rio Group have agreed to ask the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to call on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to halt violence and walk toward peace," Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo said.

But Toledo cautioned that the joint declaration, signed at the end of an annual summit of 19 members in the mountain city of Cusco, did not mean that Latin America had decided it would commit to helping Colombia militarily.

"Peace is our concern. We should be facilitators and there was no decision about external forces participating in Colombia. The issue did not even come up," he said.

But that had appeared to be a possibility for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who said a day earlier that if the FARC did not follow the UN urging, "we would have to seek another remedy, which should entail all nations helping Colombia defeat terrorism militarily."

Still, it was not entirely clear whether the action the Rio Group wants the UN to take would mean a resolution urging a ceasefire and peace talks, or something else.

Thousands of people are killed every year in Colombia as the FARC and other armed groups battle security forces and each other. The Uribe government has promised a hard military line against rebels and the drug trafficking that it says finances rebel arms purchases.

The UN already has a small role in Colombia. Shortly after Uribe took office in August, he invited a UN special envoy to facilitate peace talks. There has been little progress in the negotiations.

Because of the many US interventions in Latin America over the past 150 or so years, many Latin American countries bristle at any talk of intervention from the US or elsewhere.

The US has a presence in Colombia. It has poured about US$2 billion into the anti-drug war in the world's top cocaine producer in the last two years.

One of those opposing a larger UN role in Colombia was Venezuela's left-leaning President Hugo Chavez, who warned it could set a perilous precedent.

"What this (declaration) establishes is very dangerous. It opens the door to something much more serious than a war: (foreign) intervention," said Chavez, who, nevertheless, signed the declaration "with reservations."

"Never on this continent has this been proposed. For example in Peru, which had a huge rebel problem, no one proposed that a multinational force come in to occupy," he added.

The summit concluded with a resolution focusing on political party reform and new financial mechanisms to secure investment, give more access to credit and fight poverty.

Latin America may be emerging from economic woes that led the regional economy to a 0.6 percent contraction in 2002, but the UN says even projected growth of near 2 percent in 2003 will not slash troubling poverty rates.

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