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Guerrilla commander says, 'This is a means'

When Colombian peace commissioner Victor G. Ricardo's forest-green SUV roared through this seven-hut outpost without even braking, it was obvious preliminary talks with Colombia's FARC guerrillas hadn't gone well.

After a five-hour drive in suspension-sprung pickups over rough dirt roads through Colombian jungle and jungle-turned-grazing-land, a group of a dozen Colombian and foreign journalists, expecting to find peace talks in La Tua, were dismayed.

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But a half-hour later, FARC Commander Raul Reyes, one of the guerrilla organization's top leaders and one of three negotiators, arrived to confirm that no agreement had been reached to start negotiations as scheduled July 19.

The journalists requested a sitdown interview with the commander. Looking tired, he said that would be fine - the next day. But he must have sensed the heavy disappointment, because within two minutes Reyes was sitting on a plastic red chair, machine-gun-toting rebels spread out in the field around him, answering a wide-ranging volley of questions.

"The FARC aren't fighting this war out of taste for war, this is not an end but a means," Reyes says.

What the guerrillas want is a change in Colombia's structure, where guaranteed social protections, social justice, and agrarian reform would repair the "terrible injustice" where in a wealthy country the very few dominate the mass of very poor, Reyes says.

The guerrillas are not talking about expropriating companies or anyone's property, but a more equitable distribution of the country's wealth. On land reform, a continuing issue in many Latin American countries, Reyes says it wouldn't be enough to redistribute underutilized or abandoned lands to campesinos (peasants or farm workers.) Any plan would have to include broad infrastructure development so farmers could get their produce to markets, and technical training to boost productivity.

Reyes called generally accepted claims that the FARC profits from a relationship with Colombian drug growers and traffickers to the tune of $600 million to $1 billion a year part of the "big lie" about the guerrilla organization. Revealing a sense of humor, he says, "We are wondering where this $1 billion that is supposedly ours might be so that we can claim it."

But he was less facetious about US involvement in Colombia. Rising US assistance to the Colombian government - what he called military assistance for the government's anti-guerrilla war under the guise of antinarcotics assistance - is "very dangerous" because it could feed an escalation of the war.

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On the killings by FARC soldiers of three American workers earlier this year - killings that ended in March fledgling talks the US government had going with FARC representatives - Reyes insisted the killings were not ordered by any FARC leaders.

They resulted, he said, from a breakdown of communication between the FARC cupola and soldiers in the field, and he said a "war council" would be called to try the soldiers involved. (some Colombian observers doubt this will happen, because the army claims to have proof the killings were ordered by the brother of FARC Commander "Mono Jojoy.")

On the peace process, Reyes warned the FARC would not accept a deal to "return to action in political parties" along the lines of what Central America's guerrilla armies accepted. "What results can Central America claim?" he asks. "El Salvador today has more killings than during the war, and Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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