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Colombia has suffered too much, rebels must be stopped



Published: Tue, August 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



After threatening to kill every mayor in Colombia, the FARQ rebels lobbed massive mortar shells into the capital city of Bogota, hoping to disrupt the inauguration of that nation's new president, & Aacute;lvaro Uribe V & eacute;lez. Uribe was sworn in last Wednesday, but 19 Colombians were killed then and dozens more in the days following. The new president must lead his people not only to eliminate fear of the violent rebels but to eliminate the rebels once and for all.

The task will not be easy. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the have tried for 38 years to lead a Marxist revolution in the South American nation, one they have financed with the drug trade and kidnappings. But their ferocity and murderous intent is matched by illegal right-wing paramilitary groups that have their own deadly agenda. Uribe must contend with both.

Running as a hard-liner, Uribe has begun to fulfill his campaign promises to end the violence by declaring a "state of internal commotion," an action permitted under Colombia's constitution that allows the government to boost its security forces and increase taxes to pay for it. Finance Minister Roberto Junguito said the costs will be financed by a new 1.2 percent tax for higher-income groups. While additional taxes are likely to magnify Colombia's economic problems, without an end to the ongoing rebellion, the economy there can only grow weaker.

More soldiers and police

Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez announced that increasing the size of the army and police force will begin immediately, with plans calling for about 10,000 more police officers two army brigades of 3,000 soldiers each. Uribe also plans to create a million-strong civilian force of to help inform police and the army of rebel and paramilitary activity.

Uribe, a 50-year-old lawyer who won a landslide election victory in May, is no stranger to the violence which has crushed the Colombian spirit. His own father was gunned down by FARC rebels on the family ranch in Antioquia in 1983, and in the past six months there have been three attempts on his life, including one which destroyed cars in his motorcade.

A year and a half ago, we expressed hope that the then president, Andres Pastrana, would be successful in initiating peace talks with the rebels. To that end, he traveled deep into rebel-held territory for a meeting with guerrilla leader Manuel Marulanda -- even spending the night at the rebel base. But his overture of trust was not reciprocated as the rebels refused to end the conflict which has claimed 35,000 civilian lives over the past 10 years.

Clearly, FARQ -- like the paramilitary squads -- will only be content if Colombia is handed over to them. That cannot be allowed to happen.




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