Bogota Under Siege?

The launch of a major guerrilla offensive in July that penetrated within 40 miles of Bogota, the Colombian capital, has dealt a potentially fatal blow to President Andres Pastrana's quest to broker a peace deal ending more than three decades of civil war, warns the conservative El Pais of Cali.

The wave of terrorist assaults on military and civilian targets, which killed nearly 300 people in its first week, represents a brazen attempt by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to strengthen its bargaining position on the eve of peace talks with the Pastrana government. "The offensive is an attempt by the guerrillas to heighten the anxiety of the Colombian people," El Pais observes. But in exploiting the "demilitarized" zone in FARC-controlled regions of southern Colombia as a staging ground for the July offensive, the guerrillas have engaged in "deception and violence that is closing the window of opportunity for the goal of reconciliation," says the paper.

The centrist El Tiempo of Bogota reports that a massive guerrilla assault in Gutierrez, less than an hour's drive from Bogota, "made it appear that the capital of the nation was under siege." Army check-points sprouted on major routes of access to the capital, and police went on high alert to thwart potential terrorist assaults on political and security targets. In fact, El Tiempo writes, the heavily outnumbered guerrilla forces "do not have the capacity to take Bogota" outright but are well equipped to engage in hit-and-run attacks.

Parmenio Cuellar Bastidas of Bogota's liberal El Espectador concedes that, for now, peace talks have been sabotaged. But he hopes that efforts to find "a political alternative ... to the violation of human rights" will continue.