Bogota militants realized they simply could not win

By , Latin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The turning point in the two-month-long Dominican Embassy hostage drama in Bogota came two weeks ago when the guerrillas holding the embassy became convinced that the Colombian government was not going to yield to any of their ransom demands.

Those demands, including release of 300 of their colleagues in Colombian jails and $50 million ransom, were repeatedly rejected by Colombian authorities. In six weeks of negotiations, the guerrillas failed flatly to budge the Colombian government on those issues.

At that point, the guerrillas apparently realized that the game was up. They could go on holding their diplomatic hostages indefinitely, but to what gain"

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They have the example of the Iranian militants who have held 50 US diplomatic personnel hostage in Tehran since Nov. 4. While that seizure had in part sparked the Colombian takeover, the fruitfulness of it all "became patently unclear" to these "very rational human beings [the Colombian militants]," say authorities in Bogota.

When the guerrillas realized that they were at an impasse and that Fidel Castro's offer of asylum was still available, their negotiators began exploring face-saving devices --so the militants would not appear to have come out of a long embassy occupation empty-handed.

Part of that face-saving was the Colombian government's guarantee of speedy and fair trials, open to public scrutiny, of the 300 M-19 guerrillas who are in jail.

That promise was important, according to Colombian sources here, to prevent any last-minute second thoughts by the militants about ending the embassy ordeal.

After reaching Cuba, the exiled M-19 members are reported to have said they consider their embassy occupation successful because they drew attention to repression and torture in Colombian jails.

[Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights organization, charged April 17 that the Colombian government engaged in arbitrary arrests and systematically tortured political prisoners. Colombian President Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala has vehemently denied the accusations.]

President Turbay was worried all along about the safety of the ambassadors, including US Ambassador Diego Asencio, and other diplomatic personnel held at the Dominican Embassy since Feb. 27.

There was a very real danger that the militants -- members of the somewhat shadowy Movimiento de 19 Abril (Movement of April 19, or M-19) -- might harm their hostages. Their threats to do so were not idle, it is felt in Colombian circles.

As mapped out by well-placed Colombian sources here, the embassy drama in Bogota was all but over with the guerrillas' tacit admission that they could go no further. They wanted to preserve their image as much as possible, and they were worried that the long embassy holdout was marring that image.

It was early obvious to Colombian authorities that the militants were desperate for the release of their colleagues. Captivity had reduced the guerrillas' ranks, and two of their three top leaders were in prison.

The M-19 hoped for their release, but it simply was not forthcoming. But in the end, Colombian authorities did promise to expedite trials of guerrillas being held, and to allow members of the Inter-American human Rights Commission to monitor the military tribunals, which, under Colombian law, are responsible for trials involving subversion --the sort of thing carried out by the guerrillas.

It is as yet unclear whether the asylum extended by President Castro will ease the ill feelings of other Latin American countries. His actions had inflamed the refugee incident at the Peruvian Embassy in Havana and temporarily stymied efforts to evacuate Cuban refugees.

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