Colombian Government to Demand Explanations from Rebels
The Colombian government planned to turned up the heat on the country's Marxist rebels Thursday by formally asking them to account for the killing of an opposition lawmaker involved in the peace process.
"The FARC will have to tell if they were behind the regrettable murder of the president of the peace commission ... his mother and five other people," said Colombia's High Peace Commissioner Camilo Gomez, referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Gomez said he will officially present the demand during his meeting Thursday with FARC leaders that will take place inside a Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone in southern Colombia controlled by the country's largest rebel group.
Diego Turbay, 40, who headed a peace commission in the lower house of parliament, was shot in the head Friday in a roadside ambush between the towns of El Doncello and Puerto Rico, some 670 kilometers (416 miles) south of Bogota, by an armed group which forced him out of his armored vehicle, police said.
A member of the Liberal Party, Turbay was slain along with his mother, Ines Cote, and five other people, including three bodyguards, police said.
The police and army on Friday blamed a FARC commando unit for the murders, which coincided with the release of an official death toll from last year's nationwide carnage.
"The government has serious indications that the FARC could be responsible for this atrocious crime," President Andres Pastrana told reporters in the aftermath of the killings.
"If the FARC are responsible, the country is waiting for them to assume responsibility and hand over whoever committed this vile crime," he said. "And if they are not responsible, then they should also tell the country."
Amid widespread clamor for a tougher stance against the guerrillas, Pastrana on Wednesday called a meeting of political party representatives to discuss peace prospects in the wake of Turbay's assassination.
But the participants decided to hold back any decision pending the outcome of Gomez's talks with FARC leaders on Thursday.
Although the FARC has not publicly confirmed of denied the accusations, the peace commissioner said he remained committed to the peace process.
"I continue to insist that a negotiated political solution remains fundamental," Gomez pointed out.
Government figures released last week said 38,820 Colombians died in violent circumstances in 2000 -- a 10 percent increase from the previous year.
The figures are the latest evidence that four decades of civil war pitting thousands of well-armed and well-funded Marxist revolutionaries against the government and right-wing paramilitaries could be far from over.
Turbay's late brother, Rodrigo Turbay, also a lawmaker, died a year ago after being kidnapped by the Marxist guerrillas -- BOGOTA (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)