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Colombia president begins reorganization

By RAY PEREZ

BOGOTA, Colombia -- The mass resignation of most of President Belisario Betancur's Cabinet Tuesday enabled the head of state to begin a promised reorganization of his government at the end of his first year in office.

Eleven of the 13 ministers signed a letter of resignation and presented it to Betancur at the weekly Cabinet meeting.

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Betancur, who completes his first year in office next Sunday, recently indicated he would reorganize the Cabinet. The changes in government structure, however, does not mean all the resignations will be accepted.

Jaime Arias Ramirez, the minister for national education who served as spokesman for his colleagues, said the ministers wanted the president to make his changes without pressure or impediments.

'We expressed to him that we wanted to leave him free to readjust his Cabinet,' Arias Ramirez said.

Only Treasury Minister Edgar Castro Gutierrez, who is on a business trip to London, and Gen. Fernando Landazabal, the defense minister, did not sign the letter. A spokesman said Landazabal was not 'obligated' to sign the letter.

During his first year in office, Betancur has proposed amnesty for guerrillas, readjusted the tax structure and has been a vociferous proponent of peace in Central America.

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The president indicated the reorganization was in accordance with promises to his own Conservative Party and the opposition Liberal Party. Under Colombian law, a president's Cabinet must be composed of members of both parties.

Although he signed the resignation letter, Foreign Minister Rodrigo Lloreda is expected to remain in Betancur's Cabinet.

Lloreda has been a vociferous voice in the so-called Contadora Group -- made up of Colombia, Mexcio, Panama and Venezuela -- that is proposing peaceful solutions for the Central American crisis.

The foreign minister, a staunch supporter of Betancur's independent foreign policy, also was instrumental in Colombia's move into the non-aligned group last February.

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