It was enough to make a Colombian President wonder if he was still in charge. And for 24 hours or so, Andres Pastrana may not have been. While Pastrana was on a European tour to promote his faltering "peace process," General Javier Arias went on TV back home to reclaim the territory Pastrana had ceded to the country's biggest leftist rebel force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Pastrana's critics say giving the insurgents the vast swath of land in southern Colombia has failed to yield any concessions from the guerrillas. Yet he is considering ceding a smaller zone in the north to the country's second-largest rebel force, the National Liberation Army.
Last week General Arias said the southern territory's reconquest would come when--not if--the truce covering the zone failed to get renewed Jan. 31. As he spoke, the army sent 3,000 troops to reinforce positions on the zone's borders. Pastrana, who had not ordered the movements, cut short his trip. Before he got back to Bogota, however, the military declared that it recognized his authority. While it may have backed off, the military still managed to send a warning, though it came across less discreetly than planned. "The general," a military source said, "talked more than he should have." The implication: the next coup attempt may last more than 24 hours.
--By Peter Katel/Miami