FARC chief's death will help free hostages
French foreign minister says death of the leader of the guerrilla group spells hope for the release of hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt.26 May 2008
BEIRUT - The death of the founder of Colombia's FARC guerrilla group Manuel Marulanda will "facilitate the liberation of hostages," including French-Colombian captive Ingrid Betancourt, France's foreign minister said Sunday.
"It raises great hope," Bernard Kouchner said, speaking in Beirut after confirmation by the FARC leadership of the death of 80-year old Marulanda, who died on 26 March of a short illness.
"This will facilitate the liberation of the hostages, the return of a measure of civil peace in
Colombia," he added.
"The death of Marulanda, the desertion of some other top leaders and the assassination of others, alas, appears to be a favourable context in which to release the hostages.
"One should never be happy at the death of another, but, frankly, I won't be shedding any tears," he said.
News of the death of Marulanda came from Bogota on Saturday, but was only confirmed by the armed rebel group, who operate out of the Colombian jungle, on Sunday.
"The great leader has gone," a member of FARC's secretariat, Timoleon "Timochenco" Jimenez, told Venezuela's Telesur, which was relayed by Colombian television.
FARC, whose 40-year insurgency against Bogota has seen around 200,000 people killed in a prolonged civil war, are believed to hold around 750 hostages, including Betancourt, a presidential candidate captured in 2002.
Pictures released of her in November last year showed her looking gaunt and frail.
In Paris Betancourt's mother and sister immediately launched a fresh appeal for her release after confirmation of the news of Marlunda's death.
"Given the recent events we call on the new FARC commander Alfonso Cano - a cultured and progressive man - to take a lead and ... release Ingrid and the three other civilian hostages," said Yolanda Pulecio Betancourt and Astrid Betancourt in a statement.
"These releases will trigger decisive action from France and the international community to reach a humanitarian accord and put Colombia on the path of peace", their statement said.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said some rebel leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were ready to free high-profile hostages such as Betancourt, following Marulanda's death.
Kouchner called that statement from Uribe "very good news", but voiced concern that Bogota may be preparing to launch an army assault on rebel territory, placing the lives of the hostages at risk.
"The potentially bad news, the serious problem, would be that an assault in the area where the hostages are held is being prepared and you know that, in this case, the hostages' lives would be at risk," said Kouchner.
In addition to Betancourt, FARC holds three US nationals and dozens of Colombian police and military staff.
They want to swap the hostages for some 500 imprisoned comrades including three in US jails.
The elusive Marulanda founded the FARC over four decades ago and has been rumoured to be dead at least 17 times.
The FARC has become South America's longest-running and largest insurgency.
The rebels are believed to hold an estimated 750 people hostage, and traffic drugs to fund their insurgency against the government.
Uribe said he had received "calls from the FARC in which some of the leaders announced their decision to leave the FARC and hand over Ingrid Betancourt if their freedom is guaranteed.
"The government's answer is 'yes, they are guaranteed freedom'" if they handed over hostages, Uribe said.
In a speech carried live on national television, Uribe said those leaders of the FARC who free the captives could be turned over to authorities from "France, so that they enjoy that freedom there".
The president also touted the government's offer to reward rebels up to a total of 100 million dollars when they turn themselves in alongside one or more hostages.
[AFP / Expatica]