Colombia faces critical period as parties agree to new peace process – UN envoy

Colombia faces critical period as parties agree to new peace process – UN envoy

With the Government of Colombia and the rebels agreeing to restructure the peace process with a new timetable and specific agenda, the conflict-ridden country has passed a difficult period but faces critical challenges in the weeks ahead, a United Nations envoy said today.

James LeMoyne, Acting Special Advisor to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Colombia, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that the efforts of Colombian President Andres Pastrana and the leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas had helped to prevent a wider war and gave the peace process a much better chance for success.

Mr. LeMoyne also recognized the role of the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Colombia, as well as the responsibility taken on by the regional leaders, particularly Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela, in reaching such an agreement.

The resolution of the latest crisis produced an accord between the two parties in an attempt to resolve extremely difficult issues by 7 April, the Special Adviser said. Those issues include the end of hostilities, a ceasefire, a reduction of violence against civilians in the country, and the issue of the paramilitaries - a third armed force that had not been given political recognition.

"These are very, very hard issues," Mr. LeMoyne said, "and we believe that they probably all can't be resolved by April 7. But incredible progress can be made in dealing with them and we are willing to help."

At the same time he stressed that both sides should at least reach a humanitarian accord to stop the killing in a 40-year-old conflict that had resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.

"The armed actors in Colombia have got to stop murdering and kidnapping and displacing and massacring the Colombian people," Mr. LeMoyne said. "The civilians are by far, overwhelmingly, the victims of the conflict."

The Special Advisor noted that the forces at play in Colombia had the weaponry, capacity and economic finances to have a prolonged and destructive war. Therefore, the next 11 weeks were critical for the future of Colombia and its people, Mr. LeMoyne said.