Colombia releases first group of rebel prisoners

6th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

CHINQUINQUIRA, Colombia, June 5, 2007 (AFP) - Colombia on Tuesday released a first group of Marxist rebels, in what officials hope will prompt an exchange for dozens of rebel hostages, including three Americans and French-Colombian ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

CHINQUINQUIRA, Colombia, June 5, 2007 (AFP) - Colombia on Tuesday released a first group of Marxist rebels, in what officials hope will prompt an exchange for dozens of rebel hostages, including three Americans and French-Colombian ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

The 56 rebels -- part of a total of 193 in the process of being released -- were escorted out of prison and were to be taken in buses to a military airfield in Bogota from which they will be flown to Chicoral, in the central department of Tolima.

Sixty police and army officers were standing watch over the group of rebels which includes three women, authorities said.

President Alvaro Uribe has moved toward releasing the rebels -- long demanded by the guerrillas -- in the hopes the process will lead to a swap with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The government hopes the FARC will free 56 high-profile hostages, including three US contractors captured in 2003 after their plane crashed during an anti-drug mission, and Betancourt, whose kidnapping while running for president in 2002 sparked international interest in the hostage plight.

FARC has so far rejected the move.

The remaining rebels who were expected to be set free were to leave prison between Tuesday and Wednesday. But a glitch cropped up when prosecutors found that 15 to 20 of them were ineligible for pardons because of other pending criminal charges.  

The government is scrambling to find a way to iron out their cases and get them released.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Monday released the first and highest-ranking FARC prisoner, Rodrigo Granda, at the request of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Uribe said he hoped Granda, known as FARC's "foreign minister," would now serve as a peace broker.

"The government is giving him guarantees so that he may promote peace," Uribe said on television late Monday. "The government trusts that he will not be involved in kidnappings, in assassinations."

But Granda's attorney Miguel Angel Gonzalez was unsure about the outcome of his client's release, stressing that Granda lacked FARC authority to negotiate any prisoner exchange.

"I don't know whether (Granda's) release was decided against his will, but it's clear he had no choice in the matter," the lawyer told reporters, adding that the government's release order was based on "reasons of state" and inappeallable.

Sarkozy's office said the French president had "explicitly requested" Granda's release and welcomed Uribe's "very important and courageous decision."

Sarkozy "now hopes that this development will be heard by FARC" and that "they will respond," his office said Tuesday in a statement.

France has been seeking Betancourt's release for five years.  

Betancourt's mother, Yolanda Pulecio, welcomed Granda's release as a "very positive" step because FARC had signed off on it.

"Yes, I don't think he could be released without that guarantee," she told reporters in Bogota. "Granda would never leave prison without the consent of the FARC leadership."

Sarkozy met Betancourt's family in Paris on Tuesday, assuring them he would raise her situation with world leaders meeting at the Group of Eight summit in Germany this week, his office said.

"The solution will not come from the G8 but the G8's commitment can be an extra weapon in this difficult and complex process," Sarkozy was quoted as telling Betancourt's sister Astrid, her daughter Melanie and her former husband Fabrice Delloye.

The United States on Tuesday called on FARC "to release ... all hostages in Colombia," reminding Uribe of his commitment "to safely obtaining the freedom of all hostages held by the FARC, including the three American hostages."

"We hold the FARC and other armed groups responsible for the health and welfare of the hostage US citizens," said State Department spokesman Eric Watnik.

Asked what about the unilateral release of jailed members of a rebel group the US has listed a terrorist organization, he said: "That's a decision for the Colombian government."

"The United States will continue to work with the government of Colombia to bring to justice terrorists and narcotraffickers who committed serious crimes and to dismantle their criminal organizations," Watnik added.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article