LOS POZOS, Colombia — Stoking fears that Colombia’s war will enter its bloodiest phase, leftist rebels declared the peace process over Sunday and prepared to abandon the safe haven that has served as headquarters for three years of negotiations.
Moments before the announcement by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a military warplane circled over the site of the failed peace talks in the hamlet of Los Pozos. Troops massed in military bases across this South American country, and even reservists were called to duty, prepared to retake the guerrilla sanctuary, an area about twice the size of New Jersey.
The government ceded the zone to the rebels, known by their Spanish acronym FARC, as a condition to start talks to end Colombia’s 38-year civil war and the rebels had pledged to give it back if the talks ended.
President Andres Pastrana, meanwhile, met with armed forces commander Gen. Fernando Tapias at the presidential palace in the capital, Bogota, as well as with a group of diplomats from European and Latin American countries supporting the peace talks.
Three years of talks have only yielded squabbling, and at midnight Saturday Pastrana’s patience appeared to have worn out. He ordered the insurgents to come up with a viable peace offer or leave by tonight.
A FARC commander said the rebels had been in contact with Fidel Castro, adding the Cuban leader might be able to break the impasse.
The swift turn of events indicates Colombia’s 38-year-old civil war — which pits the U.S.-backed military and a brutal right-wing paramilitary group against the FARC and smaller guerrilla factions — will intensify.
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