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Colombian Leftist Group M19 Disarms, But Others Fight On

March 9, 1990 GMT

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A leftist guerrilla group responsible for seizing the Palace of Justice in a bloody 1985 attack laid down its arms Thursday after a 16-year battle with the government and pledged to fight for peace as a political party.

The group, M19 or the April 19 Movement, is the first leftist guerrilla group to disarm and the only one of six Colombian insurgent groups to accept the government peace plan.

The National Liberation Army, blamed for recent kidnappings, and the other groups say they will keep up their armed struggles.

But M19′s action Thursday disarms an outfit that mounted some of the most daring rebel attacks, including taking hostage the U.S. ambassador and 15 other envoys in 1980 and capturing the Palace of Justice in an assault that left 115 people dead, including 11 Supreme Court justices.

The disarmament came after 13 months of peace talks with the administration of President Virgilio Barco in the southern mountain town of Santo Domingo.

M19 promised to abandon its armed struggle and transform itself into a political party in exchange for amnesty.

The movement directed its campaign against capitalism and U.S. ″imperialism’ ′ and had links with other Latin American underground groups.

In a historic ceremony Thursday, the group turned 65 weapons over to an international committee headed by a Venezuelan general, Ernesto Uscategui. The committee included Socialist International delegates from Chile, Britain, Finland and Switzerland.

M19 leader Carlos Pizarro gave up his 9mm automatic pistol, Caracol radio network reported.

Pizarro, who is running for mayor of Bogota in Sunday elections, then told about 800 followers in Santo Domingo to hang up their battle fatigues and prepare to fight for peace, said Hernando Correa, an Interior Ministry spokesman in Bogota.

Radio reports had placed the number of M19 followers in the town at 1,800.

Pizarro had previously thanked Pope John Paul II for the Roman Catholic Church’s mediation in the talks. In a message Thursday to the papal nuncio, Angelo Acerbi, the M19 leader asked the pope to pray for peace in Colombia.

Acerbi was one of the 16 ambassadors taken hostage by the M19 on Feb. 27, 1980, when the group seized the Dominican Republic Embassy in Bogota.

The embassy takeover ended two months later, and unconfirmed reports said the government paid up to $2 million for the release of the hostages, including U.S. Ambassador Diego Asencio.

The arms turned over Thursday, including Galil and M-17 automatic rifles, were being transported to Caloto, 185 miles southwest of Bogota, Correa said. Interior Minister Carlos Lemos is to receive the weapons at a Friday ceremony in Caloto. Pizarro and Barco will sign the final peace accord Saturday. M19 spokesman Ramiro Lucio told reporters all the rebels’ weapons would be turned over in Santo Domingo and nearby Hobo.

Radio reports said the government was planning to melt down the weapons and use the metal to forge a monument to peace.

The M19, formed in 1974, takes its name from the date of 1970 presidential elections, which it claimed were fraudulent.

The National Liberation Army has pledged never to negotiate with the government. Authorities have blamed the group for many of the 293 abductions in Colombia during the first two months of this year.

As part of its campaign to disrupt Sunday’s congressional and municipal elections, the group Wednesday and Thursday kidnapped 10 people, including election officials, police and political leaders, a police statement said.