What Peace?

President Andres Pastrana's much-heralded peace negotiations with Colombia's biggest guerrilla groups have fallen flat, reports London's conservative newsmagazine The Economist.

"That most Colombians desperately want an end to their country's 30-year guerrilla war has never seemed clearer. A vigorous promise to seek a peace deal with the leftist guerrillas was a main factor" in Pastrana's election last year, says the magazine. But since then, Pastrana "has faced setbacks on all fronts."

First, concessions granted by Pastrana to revive the stalled talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest guerrilla group, prompted a threat of mutiny in the army and the resignation of Defense Minister Rodrigo Lloreda. Then, on May 30, the National Liberation Army (ELN), a smaller leftist group, seized more than 100 worshippers during a Mass in a church in a prosperous district of Cali, prompting national outrage.

Two weeks later, reports Paris's international news service, Agence France-Presse, ELN freed 33 of the parishioners. But the group kept 20, as well as 24 passengers from a commercial airliner that the guerrillas intercepted in April.

"Some of the president's difficulties stem from his decision to give priority to the search for a deal with FARC," says The Economist. In November, he agreed to withdraw 2,000 government troops from FARC territory in southern Colombia. But he refused to grant a similar zone to ELN.

In The Economist's view, chances for a lasting peace settlement are dim.