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Colombia's Alvaro Uribe reached out to rebels, rebels to the U.S., cables show

December 9, 2010 |  4:01 pm

Alfonso cano abc

Colombia's right-wing former president, Alvaro Uribe, sought contact in the final months of his term with the FARC guerrilla army in an effort to set "road maps" for new peace talks during the government of his successor, Juan Manuel Santos, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show.

Uribe secretly reached out to the FARC even as he pursued a hard-line campaign to eliminate the rebels by force, while publicly refusing negotiations as long as the FARC kidnapped and held hostages.

The new batch of cables, published by El Pais and other websites, also reveal that the FARC sought direct contact with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, the Colombian capital. The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is the oldest active guerrilla force in Latin America and has waged war against the Colombian government for nearly half a century.

The leaked cables offer a window on the intensely complex political gamesmanship involving Colombia's government, several active guerrilla groups and outside players. These include the United States, a strong ally of Uribe through the Plan Colombia aid package, and neighboring Venezuela, seen as supportive of the FARC under the government of President Hugo Chavez.

A January cable, classified by U.S. ambassador William Brownfield, reported that Colombia was "focused on developing communication channels and building confidence with both terrorist organizations," referring to the FARC and the smaller ELN, or National Liberation Army.

The cable cited Colombian peace commissioner Frank Pearl, saying that he "noted that the deaths of three [high-level FARC leaders] in 2008 had resulted in replacements that were more educated, intellectual and aware of the international context of the conflict."

The cables chiefly refer to the current FARC supreme leader, known as Alfonso Cano, pictured above.

A separate cable, dated May 2009, described how a Colombian politician acting as a liasion for the FARC approached the U.S. Embassy seeking to establish a "relationship." The politician's name is redacted in the leaked document.

It is not clear in the cables whether the Colombian government was aware that the FARC had reached out to the U.S. or whether the meeting led to any concrete agreements.

Uribe responded to the revelations on Twitter, saying, "We always said we were ready for dialogue once criminal activities ceased."

Uribe left office in August after eight years in the presidency. He presided over a successful campaign to largely cripple the FARC and secured the release of prominent hostages such as former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Uribe's government also was accused of committing widespread human-rights abuses and having ties to right-wing paramilitaries and drug-traffickers while the military pursued an anti-FARC strategy focused on "body counts." The army's inspector general had acknowledged that "the extrajudicial execution problem was widespread," reported a cable dated February 2009.

The same cable also said that some military commanders had "ties to criminals and narco-traffickers" and that "Uribe continues to view military success in terms of kills," making the then-president more susceptible to military leaders' arguments.

Santos, the current president, served as Uribe's defense minister, overseeing operations against the FARC and ELN, and he continues to pursue their top leaders now. A September attack resulted in the death of the high-level FARC commander known as Mono Jojoy.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: FARC rebel leader Alfonso Cano. Credit: ABC.com.py

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