Freed Colombia rebel thanks Sarkozy

8th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

BOGOTA, June 7, 2007 (AFP) - Rebel Rodrigo Granda Thursday thanked French President Nicolas Sarkozy for requesting his release, but hinted he may not be the mediator Colombia seeks to free 56 hostages held by FARC.

BOGOTA, June 7, 2007 (AFP) - Rebel Rodrigo Granda Thursday thanked French President Nicolas Sarkozy for requesting his release, but hinted he may not be the mediator Colombia seeks to free 56 hostages held by FARC.

"I do not want to raise false hopes," Granda told reporters outside the Bishop's offices in Bogota, where he has been holed up since his release earlier this week by President Alvaro Uribe.

"The only thing that has happened so far is that I have been let out of prison," added the highest-ranking of some 150 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels that Uribe unilaterally set free in the apparent hope FARC would reciprocate with its own hostage release.

Sarkozy had asked Uribe to free Granda so he could negotiate the release of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.

Her 2002 kidnapping as she ran for president drew world attention to Colombia's plague of hostage takings.

Betancourt is among 56 high-profile kidnap victims held by FARC, including three Americans hired by the US government who were captured in 2003 after their plane crashed during an anti-drug mission. Other hostages include Colombian politicians, military and police officers.

Despite his reticence, Granda said, "France can rest assured it is doing a lot to find a political and negotiated solution" to the hostage crisis.

And while keeping mum on whether he represents FARC or not, Granda Thursday spoke like an active member of the rebel group when he said "we are ready to find a solution ... through negotiations to the humanitarian exchange of prisoners on both sides, if the government gets out of Florida and Pradera."

The two municipalities in southwestern Colombia have figured in FARC's constant demand that the military withdraw and leave them with an enclave for peace negotiations.

Uribe has steadfastly refused to withdraw troops from the 800 square-kilometer (300 square-mile) area he feels sure FARC would turn into its main stronghold.

Granda also called Uribe's FARC prisoner release a "set up" and "scam," and the freed inmates as "deserters ... unprincipled people the government is displaying as guerrillas when, in fact, they never were or will be such."

"They're trying to trick the country into believing a lot of guerrillas have let out of jail, but that's not true," he added.

The release, welcomed by rights groups and foreign governments, has spawned disgust and disbelief among the country's poor urban dwellers, millions of whom abandoned their rural homes to escape rebel violence, as well as Colombia's middle and upper classes, many of whose families have suffered kidnappings like Betancourt's.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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