Uribe Talks Tough on the FARC

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Alvaro Uribe, Colombia's hard-line president-elect who stormed to a landslide victory in Sunday's election, was the new power in Colombia on Monday, and the outgoing government's strategy of talking peace with leftist rebels was a fast-fading memory.

President Andres Pastrana, who won office in 1998 pledging to negotiate peace with Marxist guerrillas, does not hand over the presidential sash until Aug. 7. But he saw his centerpiece policy collapse in February when he kicked the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, out of talks after three frustrating years.

Now it is the turn of the right-leaning Uribe, whose landowner father was killed resisting a FARC kidnapping attempt in the early 1980s. His prescription for ending a 38-year, drug-money-fueled conflict that claims 3,500 lives a year starts with a big increase in military spending.

Uribe, a keen proponent of U.S. defense aid, won 53 percent of ballots Sunday, more than the 50 percent plus one vote he needed to avoid a runoff election and well ahead of the 32 percent gained by second-place Liberal Horacio Serpa.

In a victory speech in which he was at once stony-faced and clearly choking back tears, Uribe said he would seek international mediation for possible peace talks but that leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary outlaws must lay down their arms.

"They have wasted many opportunities for peace. They will always have opportunities," said the Harvard- and Oxford-educated lawyer accused by his opponents of being a warmonger.

The triumph of the 49-year-old former governor of the violence-plagued province of Antioquia, who attracted support from Colombians of all social classes, marks a sharp shift to the right by an electorate tired of war and rebel abuses.

Famously short-tempered, the bespectacled and clean-cut Uribe was a fierce critic of the peace negotiations, which began after Pastrana granted the FARC a Switzerland-sized swathe of southern Colombia as a safe haven. Uribe said the rebels just used their land to jail kidnap victims, run a cocaine business and train for war.

He has pledged to increase military spending by about one-third to more than $4 billion and double the number of police and professional soldiers to take on the FARC, Latin America's oldest and most powerful rebel army. As part of his strategy to defeat rebels, Uribe says he will equip 1 million civilians with radios to assist the over-stretched state security forces.

But his law-and-order platform has caused concern among some human rights groups, who fear his anti-rebel rhetoric might encourage far-right paramilitary outlaws to go on the rampage.

Uribe's opponents said the paramilitary militias pressured voters to back him in some rural areas.

The main paramilitary group -- the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC -- issued a communique congratulating Uribe.

"The democratic left has shown that it does not need to arm itself or arm a guerrilla army to promote the interests of the underprivileged," said the AUC, which targets Marxist rebels and is blamed by the government for many of the worst human rights abuses in Colombia.

The United States has already sunk more than $1 billion in aid into a so-far futile attempt to wipe out Colombia's cocaine industry, which increasingly funds the illegal armed groups.

U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson rushed to Uribe's campaign headquarters at a Bogota hotel to congratulate him even before he declared victory.

Uribe, who started his campaign as an outsider, said he would ask global lenders to be patient with a country grappling not only with war but with the poverty that is its root cause.

"The international community must know Colombia has expressed a wish to restore civility, order. Colombia does not want the world to hear only bad news of violence," he said.

Last year, there were more than 3,000 kidnappings -- most of them carried out by leftist rebels seeking extortion money.