Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Colombian rebels prepare to fight `decisive battles'

AP , BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

Colombia's main rebel army said Tuesday it was preparing "to fight decisive battles" as the insurgency marked its 39th anniversary. A pre-dawn blast blamed on the guerrillas killed a child and wounded two civilians.

In a message on its Web site, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia also offered to hold clandestine talks with other Colombians -- including commanders of the country's armed forces -- to create an "alternative government" which would eventually name a presidential candidate to run for office.

Army General Jorge Enrique Mora, the commander of Colombia's armed forces, told reporters Tuesday his troops would "keep hitting the rebels and pursue them to every corner of Colombia."

There was little likelihood the rebel proposal would be taken seriously by others. Colombia's elected leaders and the military consider the rebels, known as the FARC, to be drug-trafficking terrorists with no political agenda.

Before dawn Tuesday, the FARC set off a bomb next to a police station and city hall in San Vicente del Caguan, a town near the site of failed peace talks, authorities said.

A 6-year-old boy was killed when the 100kg bomb went off, gouging a 15m-wide crater and damaging the police station, city hall and other buildings in the town in southern Colombia.

Analysts say the rebels have little chance of achieving power by force of arms. The military has received hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid and US special forces are training Colombian Army troops, but the government will still be hard-pressed to stamp out the rebels.

President Alvaro Uribe's military commanders say they hope to squeeze the rebels by military attacks to force them to return to the negotiating table and take peace talks seriously. Uribe is also demanding the rebels agree to a cease-fire before agreeing to any future peace talks.

Polls show only 3 percent of Colombians have a favorable opinion of the FARC, while Uribe has a 71 percent approval rating.

Uribe's predecessor, Andres Pastrana, called off three years of peace talks in February 2002 after the rebels hijacked a commercial airliner and kidnapped a Colombian senator who was aboard. The talks achieved no substantive progress.

Some 3,500 people, most of them civilians, die every year in Colombia's war, which pits the FARC and a smaller rebel group against the Colombian military and a handful of outlawed paramilitary groups.

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