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Church representatives challenge Colombia bishops, government.

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Catholic church representatives in Colombia have challenged the episcopal conference's endorsement of the government's full-scale war against left-wing rebels by asking for renewed peace talks and warning that the poor would be the biggest losers in the offensive.

Bishop Leonardo Gomez Serna of San Gil, in the conflict-ridden Santander Department: it, recently begged the government and the armed forces to withdraw their call for total war and asked the left-wing rebels to declare a ceasefire. Calling for a new round of dialogue between the guerrillas and the government, Gomez issued a communique stating "as members of the church and as citizens, we cannot remain mute when the lives and rights of the people, especially the poor and those without voice, are at risk."

Gomez's plea contradicts the hardline stance of Archbishop Pedro Rubiano Saenz, president of Colombia's episcopal conference. Before Colombian President Cesar Gaviria clamped a state of emergency on the country, declaring war on the guerrillas, Rubiano publicly asked the government to "put the house in order" by taking a tough stance against the rebels (NCR, Nov. 20.) Gaviria referred to Rubiano's statements as support for his offensive.

Jesuit Father Francisco de Roux, who runs the Center of Investigation and Popular Education, CINEP, a prominent, Jesuit-backed think tank in Bogota, echoed Gomez's call for a negotiated solution to the guerrilla conflict. "It is difficalt to explain why the government, when it was developing dialogues in Tlaxcala, Mexico, suddenly decided to invite the nation to a prolonged war," de Roux said. "In my opinion, this is absolutely stupid."

De Roux pointed out, however, that Gaviria's adoption of a hard-line stance also has political motives. The government has been suffering a crisis of credibility since drug trafficker Pablo Escobar escaped from jail in July. In recent weeks, congressional probes have revealed that the government allowed Escobar a string of concessions in his fancy jail in Medellin. Judicial authorities also engaged in corrupt contracting procedures during the construction and remodeling of the prison, the probes suggest.

"By declaring an all-out war, the government is trying to cover up the loss of credibility it has been suffering because of the revelation of certain lies about Pablo Escobar and the jail in Envigado," de Roux said. "Gaviria is a politician. In the style of President Bush, he wants to recuperate his authority."

De Roux said using a declaration of war to accomplish such objectives was immoral.

"Certainly, the losers of this war will be the peasants, especially, and ordinary people in the poor areas of the big cities," de Roux said. "In terms of human life, the costs will be there. Many peasants are going to die."

During the first week of the state of emergency, which significantly augmented the military's judicial powers over civilians, the armed forces killed at least 50 guerrillas throughout the country. Military officials said they were targeting rebels, but television broadcasts have shown air force planes conducting surveillance sweeps over peasant dwellings.

Asked whether the Colombian military commonly protected civilian rights during counterinsurgency operations, Jesuit de Roux arudously shook his bead. "Not at all," he said. "On the contrary, the action of the military forces has been considered, not only here, but by international standards, to be very damaging and dangerous to the civilian population."
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Title Annotation:declaration of war against left-wing rebels
Author:Wirpsa, Leslie
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 4, 1992
Words:548
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