An envoy of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today appealed to all sides in the conflict in Colombia to end the growing abuses against the civilian population and to make a renewed effort to negotiate in order to avoid an all-out war.
The call came in a statement to the press today in Bogota by Jan Egeland, Mr. Annan's Special Adviser on Colombia, who said the Secretary-General was "deeply concerned" by the deteriorating situation in the country. The Adviser had consulted with Mr. Annan during the past few days.
According to the statement, the decisions made in the coming months may determine whether Colombia will secure a viable road to reconciliation or enter a period of debilitating conflict, economic decline, widespread human rights violations and civilian suffering that will affect not only the country but the Andean region as a whole.
The only way to settle the conflict is through a negotiated solution, Mr. Egeland said. "You cannot shoot your way to reconciliation," he said. "This country has a terrible legacy of violence partly because it has repeatedly failed to face and to solve its profound social and political problems through negotiations."
The envoy also said the Government of Colombian President Andres Pastrana deserved respect for the political price it paid in pressing ahead with negotiations with the country's guerrilla forces. "All my contacts have convinced me that seeking a negotiated end to the conflict should become a State policy in Colombia, no matter who is President," he said. "As in most peace processes, there have been setbacks and difficulties, but the main point should be to learn from our mistakes while seeking to push negotiations forward."
Mr. Egeland appealed to the international community to help solve the Colombian crisis, noting that the worsening situation there demanded a new awareness, as well as significantly increased international assistance.
In terms of human rights abuses, the UN envoy urged the paramilitaries "to stop murdering women, children and unarmed civilians and stop forcing tens of thousands of innocent Colombians to flee their homes." He also encouraged the armed groups to release the civilians they had kidnapped and to refrain from further abductions that, he said, "do nothing to further the cause of social reform or of peace."