June 1999 News

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NYSE Chief Meets Top Colombia Rebel Leader

Saturday, 26 June 1999

BOGOTA -- The head of the New York Stock Exchange held face-to-face talks Saturday with a leader of Colombia's main Marxist rebel group, government sources said.

They said NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso flew into a demilitarized region of Colombia's southern jungle and savanna for his talks with a member of the general secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

A government spokesman initially said Grasso had met Manuel Marulanda, a legendary figure known by the alias ``Sureshot'' and the FARC's maximum commander.

But the state-run news agency ANCOL later reported that Grasso had met Raul Reyes, one of Marulanda's top deputies and his chief negotiator in fledgling peace talks with the government.

The meeting was thought to be the first between a senior member of the FARC, which is radically opposed to capitalism, and a representative of one of the world's top financial markets.

ANCOL quoted Grasso as having stressed the importance of full-fledged negotiations between the government and FARC, which are due to get under way on July 7 and aimed at ending a conflict that has taken more than 35,000 lives over the last decade alone.

The news agency said Grasso had extended a personal invitation to leaders of the FARC, which is considered a ''terrorist'' organization by the State Department, to visit Wall Street as soon as possible.

"I invite members of the FARC to visit the New York Stock Exchange so that they can get to know the market personally," Grasso was quoted as saying.

"I truly hope that they can do this," he added.

The government has granted the FARC control of a Switzerland-sized area of south and southeast Colombia since last November as a confidence-building measure to enter into peace talks.

ANCOL said Grasso's talks with Reyes, which lasted 1-1/2 hours, took place inside the rebel-controlled zone in an area near the village of La Machacha, in southern Caqueta province.

The news agency also said Grasso, whose presence in Colombia was kept secret until Saturday, was slated to return to New York Sunday.

Local media said Grasso had asked to meet a representative of the FARC's high command to discuss foreign investment and the future role of U.S. businesses in Colombia.

The FARC and a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), both took up arms against the state in the mid-1960s and have a long-running tradition of targeting U.S. interests in Colombia.

Both groups also use kidnapping to help bankroll their war effort.

©1999 Reuters Limited