Colombia Rebels in Offer to U.S. 

Colombia Rebels in Offer to U.S. 
Posted by FoM on January 10, 1999 at 12:19:08 PT

SAN VICENTE DEL CAGUAN, Colombia Colombian rebels on Saturday invited U.S. officials to see firsthand that the insurgents are not drug traffickers.
The invitation was offered as government-appointed delegates met with rebels to chart an agenda for peace talks to end 34 years of civil war.Jorge Briceno, the rebels' No. 2 commander, told reporters that the government and its armed forces have deceived the United States about the rebels' alleged involvement in drug trafficking "to request aid to bombard and fumigate Colombians."The government inaugurated peace talks on Thursday with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.After the Saturday meeting adjourned, the two sides issued a brief joint communique, saying: "We are beginning a long, sensitive process in which collective efforts will be necessary to achieve a new reality based on profound social, political, and economic change."The negotiators set their next meeting for Monday.Last month, FARC held a private exploratory meeting in Costa Rica with U.S. diplomats over FARC's avowed willingness to help curb the drug trade.U.S. and Colombian officials say FARC earns as much as half a billion dollars a year from protecting drug crops, cocaine laboratories, and clandestine airstrips. The United States provides more than $100 million annually in anti-narcotics aid for aerial crop eradication and equipment and training for the police and military.While not denying that some FARC fronts may have earnings from the drug trade, Briceno said, "The guerrillas are not drug traffickers. That is not part of our foundation."U.S. officials have expressed concern that by withdrawing government troops from a swath of southern Colombia to facilitate the peace dialogue, Colombia might be permitting an increase in drug production in the region, where police say about a third of Colombia's coca grows.Briceno also reiterated the group's denial that it is holding three U.S. missionaries seized from a village in southern Panama on Jan. 31, 1993. The three men, from the New Tribes Mission based in Sanford, Fla., were last heard from a year after their abduction.
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