CÚCUTA, Colombia President Álvaro Uribe transferred the seat of government temporarily to this violent town along the Venezuelan border as part of efforts...
CÚCUTA, Colombia President Álvaro Uribe transferred the seat of government temporarily to this violent town along the Venezuelan border as part of efforts to show broadening federal control.
Yesterday’s move, which involved Uribe and top members of his Cabinet, marked the second time Colombia’s president has transferred the government from the capital, Bogotá, to a conflict zone.
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In July, Uribe worked for three days from Arauca state, where rebels are battling the government and right-wing paramilitary groups for control of the oil-rich savannas.
In Cúcuta, Uribe and top members of his Cabinet, including the ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs, were to meet with local civilian and military leaders over two days to discuss ways to improve security and the economy.
Death squads from rival rebel and paramilitary factions have been killing suspected collaborators from the opposing sides in Cúcuta’s sprawling, poor barrios.
The paramilitary forces and rebels are also fighting for control of cocaine-producing crops in outlying areas. The coca crops generate huge profits for the warring sides. Government troops have stepped in to oust the outlawed groups sometimes at a bloody cost.
On Sunday, six Colombian army soldiers were killed by land mines planted by Colombia’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in a rural area of Norte de Santander state, where Cúcuta is located. Army troops later killed two FARC rebels in a shootout Sunday.
The government is engaged in a four-decade-long civil war that kills an estimated 3,500 people a year.
Brazil said yesterday it would consider hosting a meeting between rebels and the United Nations. The meeting if it took place would mark the first formal meeting between the FARC and the United Nations since the rebels’ peace talks with the Colombian government collapsed in February 2002. “In case there is a formal request from Colombia and the United Nations, Brazil will examine the request,” Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said in a prepared statement, Reuters news service reported. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party in the past has had contacts with the FARC.
Brazil is one of the region’s biggest markets for Colombian drugs and Brazilian authorities have found increasing evidence of gangs dealing directly with the FARC.
Also over the weekend, a video surfaced showing former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in captivity, nearly 19 months after she was seized by FARC.
Betancourt said in the video that she wants to be rescued as long as the operation is planned carefully and approved by Uribe, The Associated Press news service reported.
The video, broadcast on Noticias Uno on Saturday night, was the first sign in more than a year that Betancourt might still be alive. The interview was conducted May 13, Noticias Uno reported, without saying who conducted it or how the tape came into its possession.
The FARC kidnapped Betancourt and her campaign manager, Clara Rojas, in February 2002 while they tried to enter rebel territory in southern Colombia.
In May FARC rebels executed 10 hostages as army soldiers closed in on them in the mountains of northwest Colombia. The dead included a governor and a former defense minister.
The hundreds of hostages held by the FARC and a smaller rebel group include politicians, soldiers, police who the guerrillas want to exchange for imprisoned rebels and ordinary Colombians being held for ransom.
Three Americans also are being held by the FARC. Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes were working for Pentagon contractor California Microwave Systems when their plane went down in rebel territory in February. A fourth American, Thomas Janis, and a Colombian army sergeant aboard the single-engine Cessna were killed by the rebels.