Colombia begins FARC rebel release

1st June 2007, Comments 0 comments

BOGOTA, June 1, 2007 (AFP) - Bogota on Friday readied the release of hundreds of captured rebels, a unilateral move officials hope will prompt the release of 56 officials, politicians and other hostages held by FARC.

BOGOTA, June 1, 2007 (AFP) - Bogota on Friday readied the release of hundreds of captured rebels, a unilateral move officials hope will prompt the release of 56 officials, politicians and other hostages held by FARC.

However, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest rebel group, has previously vowed not to reciprocate in a swap it called a "farce."

A first group of 40 rebels held by the government were transferred by bus from a Bogota prison to a temporary holding place in Chiquinquira, 140 kilometers (87 miles) to the north, prisons director Eduardo Morales told AFP.

"Their stay in Chiquinquira will be temporary, about one or two weeks," said Morales, adding that 250-300 of the imprisoned guerrillas were to be massed at the holding place.

The first group released included three women and a three-year-old child. They emerged dressed in civilian clothes and bath towels covering their faces so as not to be recognizable by media, and climbed into a waiting bus.

The rebels, who also carried duffel bags with their clothes, refused to speak to reporters.

A Colombian government source said that rebel leader Rodrigo Granda, the FARC's "foreign minister," would be among those freed and would bring to France evidence to show President Nicolas Sarkozy that prominent French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt was alive.Betancourt was seized while running for president in 2002.

Granda has been authorized by FARC leadership to play the role of peaceful intermediary with the government and deliver proof of life for Betancourt and other persons being held," the source said on condition of anonymity.

Morales had earlier denied media reports in recent days which suggested Granda could be among those freed.

The government source added that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe would announce Granda's release on Saturday.

Uribe last week, citing "reasons of state," announced that his government would release unilaterally by June 7 a large group of imprisoned guerrillas who belonged to the FARC.

"Uribe's proposal might in this way advance the search for the freedom of the hostages which are under the control of armed groups outside the law," said an official with the office of the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace.

Uribe has been under pressure to engage in a prisoner swap with FARC, which is holding among its hostages three Americans and Betancourt.

One hostage who managed to escape after eight years in captivity told reporters last month that he had seen Betancourt and the Americans, who were snatched while on an anti-drug mission, alive on April 28.

Interior Minister Carlos Holguin said the rebels who were released had been accused or convicted of political offenses and said that a legal review of their cases had been all but completed.

Once they were released from prison, authorities would ask a judge to officially approve their walking papers.

Holguin said Thursday that more than 180 rebels could be released by next week.

But last week FARC's second in command, Raul Reyes, rejected the idea of a humanitarian exchange unless the government first establishes a huge demilitarized zone in two southwestern Colombian municipalities in which FARC operates.

FARC, now with 17,000 guerrillas, has battled the government for four decades for control of large parts of Colombian territory.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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