DATE=7/24/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=COLOMBIA TALKS (L ONLY) NUMBER=2-264741 BYLINE=LISA SCHLEIN DATELINE=GENEVA CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Colombian government officials and rebels are holding two days of peace talks in Geneva. Lisa Schlein reports the aim of the talks is to work out details of a so-called "troop free" zone in northern Colombia where the guerrilla movement can operate without hindrance. TEXT: Colombia's civil war has been going on for 36 years -- the longest running war in Latin America. All previous efforts to achieve peace have defied the best intentions. And, observers in Geneva admit they expect little progress from these talks. A senior Swiss official who opened the meeting called it a historic moment for all who believe in the possibility of a just peace in Colombia. He said the aim is to begin building mutual confidence after nearly 40 years of conflict and to work for a cease- fire. Before the talks began, the chief negotiator for the rebel National Liberation Army, known as the E-L-N, affirmed his group's commitment to peace. He acknowledged his group and the government have many differences. But, he said he believes confidence between the two sides could be re-established. The immediate aim of this meeting is to create a safe zone for the E-L-N rebels, the second largest rebel movement in Colombia. The rebels want to host a national peace conference in the proposed zone. The proposal faces stiff opposition from conservatives, rightist paramilitary groups, and residents who reportedly fear living under rebel control. Clashes between the rebels and Colombia's main right- wing paramilitary force last week reportedly killed up to 100 people. Since 1990, more than 35-thousand people have died in the civil war. The government temporarily released two guerrilla leaders from prison so they could take part in the talks in Geneva. Other top E-L-N leaders also are on hand. Government officials are joined by dozens of Colombian civic and religious leaders. In all, about 80 people are taking part in the negotiations. Also present are about one-dozen Colombians whose family members have been kidnapped by the guerrillas. They are quietly demonstrating near the hotel where the meetings are being held. They are asking the guerrillas to free their relatives as a gesture of peace. (Signed) NEB/LS/JWH/PW 24-Jul-2000 10:32 AM EDT (24-Jul-2000 1432 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .