President Andres Pastrana today accused Marxist rebels of spreading misery across Colombia and mocked the claim that guerrillas wage war in the name of the people.
Pastrana's remarks, in a speech at a military base here in the capital, marked the third time in a week that he has publicly criticized the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel group with which his government has held slow-moving peace talks since January.
"The violent ones [guerrillas] don't understand or don't want to understand that their actions only help to perpetuate and increase poverty and unemployment," Pastrana said. "While the vast majority of Colombians work for the country's economic recovery, and to create jobs that make a worthy life possible, the acts of the violent ones sow only misery and unemployment."
Pastrana's latest verbal assault appeared aimed at stripping rebels of their attempts to win over the Colombian people as they reel from the worst recession and highest unemployment rate on record.
Guerrilla commanders pledged recently to extend their long war against the state, which has taken more than 35,000 lives in the past decade, from remote rural areas to Colombia's towns and cities. Pastrana did not refer to the rebels' apparent shift of focus to urban areas in his speech.
The rebel group, which accuses Pastrana of representing the interests of the wealthy, Colombia's traditional ruling class, is also reported to have stepped up kidnapping and extortion rackets in Bogota this year in an effort to raise war funds.