Castro offers to mediate in Bogota

Cuban President Fidel Castro's offer to mediate the Dominican Embassy hostage drama in Bogota could prove to be a way out of the three-week-old impasse. But there is no certainty that Colombian authorities will accept Dr. Castro's offer. On the other hand, they do not appear to have any other immediate alternatives, following the breakdown of talks March 13 with the guerrillas holding the embassy.

Moreover, Colombia is under mounting pressure from governments whose diplomats are being held by the guerrillas to resolve the crisis before it goes much further.

The Cuban offer, the Monitor has learned, was made without any conditions -- and Dr. Castro is understood to have told Colombian authorities that he himself would take part in the negotiations if necessary.

In a message to Colombian President Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala, the Cuban President offered to give the Colombian guerrillas asylum in Cuba with the promise that they would not be permitted to return to Colombia.

At the same time, Fernando Revelo, Cuba's ambassador in Bogota, was instructed to push the Cuban offer. He met with President Turbay Ayala March 14 . After this session, the Ambassador told newsmen the President had been receptive to the proposal and thanked the Cuban government for its support.

There was some speculation in Bogota that Mr. Revelo might go personally to the Dominican Embassy sometime this week to confer with the guerrillas who are part of the Movimiento de 19 Abril (Movement of April 19, or M-19), one of Colombia's major guerrilla groups.

Slightly more than 200 members of the M-19 are being held for trial by Colombian authorities. Guerrillas occupying the embassy demand that they be released and that M-19 be given a ransom of between $10 and $50 milion. The Colombian government rejects these demands, except for a small monetary ransom, and this is what brought the talks between the government and the guerrillas to a standstill last week.

The government, meanwhile, is trying to speed up the trials of the suspected guerrillas. It handed over to the Colombian Supreme Court a decree, published March 14, that would cut down on the reading of evidence at their trials.

Under terms of a state-of-siege arrangement in force since 1976, the 24 Supreme Court magistrates have 40 days to approve or reject a decree. The court rejected the same decree last November, but the government wants to try again and believes it has a better prospect of getting approval this time.

Most observers see this effort, even if successful, as peripheral to the real solution of the hostage dilemma at the embassy. That is why the Cuban offer is being regarded with so much enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, the Egyptian government said it was asking West Germany, Britain, France, and Belgium to try to mediate the release of the hostages. Egyptian Ambassador Salah Allouba is one of the 12 ambassador still held.

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