This is an August 2007 copy of a website maintained by the Center for International Policy. It is posted here for historical purposes. The Center for International Policy no longer maintains this resource.

Last Updated:2/22/01
Peace Timeline: 1999
Pre-1999 | 2000
| 2001 | 2002

January 7, 1999

Formal peace talks begin between the government and FARC. "Tirofijo," however, fails to appear at the opening ceremony, leaving President Pastrana seated alone at the table. The FARC claims that the snub was unintended, citing concerns about a threat to assassinate the guerrilla leader.

Photo from Semana magazine

January 8, 1999

The morning after the opening ceremony, "Tirofijo" (right) and number-two FARC commander Jorge Briceño ("Mono Jojoy," left) appear just outside San Vicente. They repeat their claim that security concerns kept the FARC leader from attending the previous day's event.

January 7-13, 1999

Ending a twelve-day Christmas cease-fire, the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) go on a brutal killing spree in several areas, murdering at least 160 people, all of them civilians. The rampage is apparently revenge for a FARC attack on the AUC headquarters and a nearby town on December 28, while the paramilitary group was observing its cease-fire.

January 11, 1999

Briceño threatens to begin kidnapping congresspeople and other politicians if the government refuses to accept its proposal for a prisoner exchange. Pastrana responds that the peace process will end immediately if the FARC carries out Briceño's threat.

January 19, 1999

Citing the upsurge in paramilitary activity, the FARC "freezes" the peace dialogue until April 20. Talks will not continue, a guerrilla communiqué states, until the government acts against paramilitary groups and government and military officials believed to be linked to the right-wing militias.

January 28, 1999

Four employees of the Popular Training Institute (IPC), a Medellín-based non-governmental human rights organization, are kidnapped by the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), led by Carlos Castaño. Two members of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) are killed by suspected paramilitaries on January 30. On February 1, Castaño issues a communiqué threatening the lives of human-rights workers. The four IPC employees are released within two weeks.

February 6, 1999

Though talks with the FARC remain frozen, the Pastrana government announces a 90-day extension of the guerrilla group's demilitarized zone in southern Colombia. The "clearance" is now to expire on May 7.

February 7, 1999

Citing the threat of incursions from Colombian guerrillas, Peru deploys thousands of troops to its 1,000-mile border with Colombia. The action comes four days after Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori gave a speech in Washington warning about the guerrilla threat and criticizing the Pastrana government's peace strategy.

February 10, 1999

Secret peace discussions begin in Caracas, Venezuela between representatives of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and government Peace Commissioner Víctor G. Ricardo. ELN leaders Antonio García (the group’s "number two" leader), Pablo Beltrán and Milton Hernández issue a previously un-voiced demand for a demilitarized zone, similar to that granted to the FARC. The guerrillas hope to clear security forces from four municipalities of southern Bolívar department. In this area, the ELN leaders say they will host a several month-long "convention" with government and civil society representatives to develop an agenda for peace negotiations.

February 16, 1999

The ELN breaks off talks after the government refuses to grant the smaller guerrilla group its own demilitarized zone.

February 18, 1999

President Pastrana hosts a day-long meeting with civil society and opposition leaders in a first attempt to forge a broad-based "political agreement" on peace policy. The preliminary meeting, which yields few commitments, is a response to criticism that Pastrana's administration is leaving all other actors out of its peace effort.

February 25 - March 11, 1999

Three U.S. indigenous-rights activists, Terence Freitas, Lahe'ena'e Gay, and Ingrid Washinawatok, are abducted February 25 by FARC guerrillas in the northeastern state of Arauca. Their bodies are found on March 6. The three activists had been working with the U'wa, an indigenous ethnic group in the region. After conducting its own investigation, the FARC admits responsibility for the murders on March 11, asking forgiveness and blaming the act on a low-ranking field commander in the area.

The Colombian government alleges that higher-ranking FARC commanders ordered the killings, including the chief of one of the fronts operating in the area, Germán Briceño ("Grannobles"), the brother of number-two FARC leader Jorge Briceño. The U.S. State Department announces that it will not meet again with FARC representatives, as it did in December 1998, unless the FARC turns those responsible for the crime over to Colombian authorities.

March 23-25, 1999

U.S. and Colombian defense officials gather in Colombia for the first meeting of the military-to-military Bilateral Working Group between the two countries. The meeting, described as cordial and productive, divided into three working groups: general policy, counterdrug, and force modernization and professionalization.

March 25, 1999

The United Self-Defense Forces paramilitary group issue a threat in the northern region of Urabá, warning all international human-rights workers to leave Colombia. The communiqué also threatens the safety of non-governmental organizations and "peace communities" -- groups of citizens refusing to deal with any party in the conflict -- in Urabá.

April 9, 1999

President Pastrana forces the retirement of two senior Army generals, Gen. Rito Alejo del Río (left), the Army's chief of operations, and Gen. Fernando Millán (right), head of the Army's war college. Both were widely accused of assisting paramilitary groups. While human rights and peace activists applaud the move, many in Colombia see the resignations as either a concession to the FARC, which had called for high-profile resignations of officers linked to paramilitaries, or as a concession to the United States, whose Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Harold Koh, was to arrive in Bogotá that same day.

from El Espectador

April 9-12, 1999

Koh visits Colombia to attend a U.S.-sponsored conference in Medellín on peace and human rights. Koh makes several direct statements at the conference and in the press, particularly with regard to continued linkages between military personnel and paramilitary groups.

April 12, 1999

Photo from Cambio magazine

ELN fighters hijack an Avianca Airlines flight bound from Bucaramanga to Bogotá, forcing it to land and kidnapping all passengers and crew. While a few passengers are released, most remain hostages. Some analysts see the kidnapping as an attempt by the ELN -- which is seen as a much weaker guerrilla group than the FARC -- to show strength and thereby extract greater concessions from the government in eventual talks.

April 20 - May 1, 1999

Unofficial talks between government and FARC representatives begin in the southern demilitarized zone. FARC leaders say the talks are still officially "frozen" while it evaluates the government's efforts against paramilitary groups. Pushing for an expansion of the "clearance zone" in order to enact a cocaine crop substitution program, FARC officials say that they will end all peace talks if the government does not at least push back the zone's May 7 expiration date.

April 27, 1999

The government rejects an ELN demand for a small demilitarized zone in exchange for the release of the Avianca hostages.

May 2, 1999

President Pastrana visits FARC rebels in the "clearance zone" for the second time since becoming president. Pastrana meets with FARC leader Marulanda for six hours, convincing him to agree to formal peace talks with the government starting May 6th. In a statement released by Pastrana, the president indicates the "unwavering political commitment of both sides to find a political solution to the conflict." Although the size of the clearance zone is not expanded, its expiration date is postponed. The two leaders also agree to form an international verification commission that will verify agreements and monitor FARC actions in the zone.

Photo from Semana magazine

May 6, 1999

FARC and government officials meet and agree on a joint agenda for formal negotiations, a stage that past talks with the FARC were unable to reach. The formal talks are to begin in approximately three weeks.

May 21, 1999

The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the powerful paramilitary group led by Carlos Castaño, kidnaps Liberal Party Senator Piedad Córdoba, the head of the Senate's human rights committee. The AUC demands to be treated as a political actor and to enter into peace talks with the government. Pastrana, arguing that kidnapping is no way to gain political legitimacy, refuses to submit to what he considers AUC blackmail. Córdoba is released on June 4.

May 26, 1999


The respected Minister of Defense, Rodrigo Lloreda, abruptly resigns, citing disagreements over the peace process with the FARC. Lloreda protested statements made on May 21 by government Peace Commissioner Víctor G. Ricardo indicating that the "clearance zone" might be extended indefinitely. The defense minister also cited Pastrana's failure to return a phone call inquiring about Ricardo's statements.

Lloreda's resignation is accompanied by the alarming resignations of at least fifty other high-ranking officers, including eighteen generals. While President Pastrana accepts Lloreda's resignation, he refuses to accept the others. The head of the armed forces, Gen. Fernando Tapias, offers Pastrana a public show of support.

Luis Fernando Ramírez is named as the new defense minister.

Photo from Semana magazine

May 29, 1999

ELN guerillas kidnap 143 churchgoers from La María Cathedral in Calí. The group releases 83 hostages immediately and proceeds to release smaller groups over the next few weeks, eventually for holding only the wealthiest

May 31 - June 4, 1999

CIP President Robert White with Comandante Jairo of the FARC  (from El Espectador)

The Center for International Policy leads a delegation from the U.S. Congress to Colombia. Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) and staff members for six other members of Congress meet with government officials and representatives of political parties, church groups, peace groups, human rights groups, the U.S. government, and the United Nations.

On June 4, the delegation, accompanied by Colombian government Peace Commissioner Víctor G. Ricardo, travels to the clearance zone for a meeting with FARC comandante Raúl Reyes. The U.S. delegation raises concerns about the FARC's willingness to seek a political solution, its links to the drug trade, and kidnappings and murders of U.S. citizens.

June 20, 1999

The government announces that the formal negotiations with the FARC will begin on July 7th.

July 6, 1999

The government and FARC postpone peace talks until the 19th of July. The reasons given for the postponement are (1) the inability of three members of the FARC negotiating team to arrive at the clearance zone on time, and (2) the need for more time to define "the rules of the game" for the international commission -- a result of the May 2 agreement between Pastrana and Marulanda -- that will verify conditions in the clearance zone.

July 8-12

The FARC launches a five-day offensive throughout Colombia which one army official calls "the largest and most demented guerilla offensive in the past forty years." The campaign encompasses 15 towns, one of which is just 35 miles south of Bogotá. The guerillas bomb banks, blow up bridges and energy infrastructure, block roads and assault police barracks. The Colombian military successfully counters the offensive, thanks in part to U.S. intelligence monitoring which enables government aircraft to bomb FARC transports en route to their target areas. Government reports claim that upwards of 300 combatants lose their lives in the fighting, over 200 of them FARC guerillas. The FARC accuses the government of exaggerating FARC losses.

July 15, 1999

On a visit to Washington, Minister of Defense Luis Ramirez and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fernando Tapias request $500 million in counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency assistance for the next two years.

July 16, 1999

From ONDCP web page

U.S. "Drug Czar" Barry McCaffrey proposes one billion dollars in "emergency drug supplemental assistance" for fighting the drug war in South America. The suggested assistance includes $570 million in aid for Colombia, most of it for Colombia's security forces. McCaffrey also suggests that differentiating between anti-drug and anti-insurgency efforts is counterproductive, indicating that the two are interdependent.

July 19, 1999

Citing an inability to agree upon the creation of an international verification commission, FARC-government talks are suspend until July 30th. FARC spokesman Raúl Reyes argues that Colombia's military is exaggerating the threat posed by the FARC in order to obtain foreign aid.

July 26, 1999

U.S. "Drug Czar" McCaffrey visits Pastrana and other Colombian officials in a four-day visit to South America. McCaffrey again stresses his support for increasing military aid to the area and suggests that the U.S. should "reevaluate" its policy toward Colombia.

July 30 - August 1, 1999

The AP calls a FARC attack on the town of Nariño, Antioquia "one of the most deadly guerrilla assaults on civilians in memory." The attack is conducted by 300 guerrillas against a police station guarded by 35 police officers. The guerrillas' use of inaccurately launched bombs made from gas canisters destroys the downtown area and kills seventeen people, including eight civilians, four of them children.

August 5, 1999

The government opens the possibility of peace talks with the ELN by convening a small group of government and civil society negotiators that will work towards the release of ELN hostages and perhaps begin to pursue a dialogue on peace.

August 8-9, 1999

Amid diminishing support in Washington for the peace process in Colombia, Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering visits Colombia on a trip aimed at gaining a clearer vision of the Colombian government's peace strategy. Pickering, the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Colombia in years, affirms U.S. support for the Pastrana government and the beleaguered peace process. Pickering reportedly also advised Pastrana not to make further concessions to the FARC, and asked the Colombian government to orient future U.S. assistance by drafting a plan explaining its peace, development and counter-drug strategy.

August 10, 1999

The National Judicature Council, a body that resolves jurisdictional disputes between military and civilian courts, ruled by a 4-3 vote that Gen. Jaime Humberto Uscátegui will stand trial in a military court. Uscátegui, the army's regional commander during a week-long paramilitary massacre of about thirty people in Mapiripán, Meta in 1997, stood accused of dereliction of duty for ignoring calls to stop the killings. The case against him made Uscátegui the highest-ranking active military officer ever arrested for a human rights-related crime. Human rights groups, charging that the military court system is systematically lenient, viewed the National Judicature Council's decision as a serious setback.

Photo from Semana magazine.

September 2, 1999

President Pastrana fires General Alberto Bravo Silva, commander of the army's Fifth Brigade, for failing to stop a paramilitary massacre of thirty-six people in the Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia on August 20 and 21. Bravo had dismissed months of warnings that the paramilitary rampage was imminent.

September 20-22, 1999

President Pastrana visits New York and Washington to promote the "Plan Colombia," a $7.5 billion proposal to end the conflict, curb narcotrafficking, and revive Colombia's economy. Of this total -- which includes $4 billion in police and military assistance -- Pastrana seeks $3.5 billion from donor countries, especially the United States. U.S. officials promise support for the "plan," but make no specific commitments.  

October 24, 1999

Between 6 and 12 million Colombians mobilize in the streets to demand an end to the fighting. Several Colombian peace and human rights groups, among them País Libre, Redepaz and Viva la Ciudadanía, organized this nationwide protest against kidnappings and the armed conflict.

This same date also witnessed a re-starting of talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.

November 14, 1999

A FARC offensive -- believed to be a response to President Pastrana's call for a holiday cease-fire -- deals the peace process another setback. The Colombian armed forces turn back a FARC attempt to take Puerto Inírida, the capital of remote Guainía department.

November 19, 1999

The U.S. Congress adjourns without approving a widely expected military, police and economic aid package in support of the "Plan Colombia." Most analysts expect Congress to consider a supplemental aid proposal soon after it reconvenes in January.

December 5, 1999

FARC leaders and Colombian government officials hold a televised meeting at Los Pozos, Meta, asking the Colombian people for suggestions or questions via e-mail, fax and phone. The event, however, is plagued by technical difficulties which prevent many Colombians from viewing it or contacting the participants.

December 9-20, 1999

The FARC carries out another offensive, with combat occurring in seven different departments. The greatest casualties result from a FARC attack on a naval post in Juradó, Chocó, near the border with Panama, and from a military aerial attack on FARC fighters outside Hobo, Huila.

On December 20, the FARC announces a holiday cease-fire, calling off military operations until January 10, 2000. Peace talks are to resume on January 13.

Pre-1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002

See also:

"An Overview of Recent Colombian History," from the Colombia Human Rights Network website.

"Colombia: A Country Study" - US Library of Congress

State Department Background Notes: Colombia

CIA World Factbook 1998: Colombia

CIP's New and Noteworthy Page, including links to current Colombia news

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