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Colombia17 June 2004

Reporters Without Borders protests against restrictions on press coverage of government talks with paramilitaries

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern about the threat to press freedom posed by restrictions on media coverage of talks between the government and leaders of the AUC paramilitary forces, that open on 1 July in Tierralta, in north-western Cordoba region.

"The three-day deadline for journalists to seek accreditation, starting from 15 June, for talks expected to last six months is excessively short," said the international press freedom organisation.

"It will particularly penalise foreign press correspondents who will only find out about the restrictions after the talks have started," it said in a letter to High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo.

"Forcing the press to get accreditation in Bogota will also be likely to disadvantage provincial publications who want to cover the event but do not have representatives in the capital, the organisation added.

"While accepting the need for journalists travelling to the area to be accredited, the deadline that has been set is at best pointless and at worst a danger for press freedom," it said.

""We therefore ask you to do away with the time limit for accreditation," the organisation asked the High Commissioner. "Your desire not to turn the negotiations into a ’show’ should not lead you to infringe press freedom," it concluded.

In a statement put out by the press service of the High Commissioner for Peace on 15 June 2004, media were told that they had until 18 June to put in requests for accreditation, in which they must name the journalists they intended sending to Tierralta.

It added that accreditation had to be collected at the press service itself in the capital and only on 24 and 25 June. It stressed that media failing to comply with the procedure "would not enter the area in question".

Contacted by Reporters Without Borders, the press service said that there was room for flexibility. A request that arrived on 15 July would be looked at and would not immediately be rejected. A media should also succeed in accrediting a second journalist to replace a first one.

Questioned about the reasons for a three-day deadline, the press service explained, "In Colombia people always wait until the last moment to do anything, so we had to fix a deadline."

Restrepo said on 16 May that the peace talks process would be disciplined and there would be no media circus, in reference to negotiations held in 1998-2002 by President Andrés Pastrana with the FARC guerrillas in an area to which there was, at the start, uncontrolled access.

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