Colombian rebels confirm planned release of three hostages

21st December 2007, Comments 0 comments

Guerrillas have confirmed that they plan to release three hostages, including a top aide to Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and a child born in captivity.

   BOGOTA, December 21, 2007 - Colombian Marxist guerrillas have confirmed
that they plan to release three hostages, including a top aide to
Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and a child born in captivity.
   The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said on its website
Thursday it would free Clara Rojas, who was kidnapped with Betancourt during
her 2002 presidential bid, along with Rojas' three- or four-year-old son
Emmanuel, whose father is a rebel.
   The rebels said they would also release lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez de
Perdomo, kidnapped in 2001.
   The statement on the rebel website followed criticism within the government
of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe that cast doubt on the veracity of an
earlier announcement made via a Cuban news agency on Tuesday. It was also
delivered via the Cuban embassy in Bogota.
   The seven-point statement, titled "FARC: Uribe, a coward," said the release
was a gesture of goodwill towards the relatives of the hostages, as well as to
both Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba,
who tried to mediate a hostage-for-prisoner swap.
   FARC is trying to swap some 45 high-profile captives -- including
Betancourt, several politicians, and three Americans captured in 2003 -- for
500 imprisoned rebels.
   In late November Uribe angrily canceled Chavez's mediation efforts on
charges that he broke negotiation rules, and bitter words were exchanged.
   Earlier Thursday Uribe said in an interview with RCN radio network that
Colombia gave France reports from its intelligence agencies on the hostages.
   "We have had important intelligence information on the topic," Uribe told
RCN. "We have not been able to confirm them (the reports), but we have
prudently presented them to the government of France."
   French President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a personal interest in efforts
to obtain Betancourt's release.
   Uribe gave no details on what was in the reports, but did say that the
conditions were in place to release three of those hostages.
   "For several weeks," Uribe said, "we have said, 'if you want to hand over
the hostages to President Sarkozy or to President Chavez, whom they hold in
such high esteem, well let them hand them over.'"
   Uribe said he was especially happy to learn that one of the hostages being
released was Emmanuel.
   "I was especially happy with the news of that boy, Emmanuel, because he was
conceived while kidnapped, born kidnapped, had lived his life kidnapped --
this is a situation as aberrant as slavery," he said.
   The FARC's second in command, Raul Reyes, told the Anncol news agency that
Uribe's "stubborn obstruction" was the main obstacle in concluding a
hostage-for-prisoners swap.
   "The immediate resignation of Uribe along with that of his whole government
would guarantee the liberation of the prisoners, alive, through the signing of
a humanitarian agreement," said Reyes, according to the undated text published
by Anncol and posted on its Internet site on Wednesday.
   Leon Valencia, an analyst with the New Rainbow foundation and himself a
former guerrilla, said it is "highly probable that the hostages are already in
Venezuela or very close to the border."
   Three Colombian ex-presidents appealed to the rebel group to accept Uribe's
recent proposal to make the exchange in two small townships in southern
Colombia of about 150 square kilometers (58 square miles) in size, an idea
FARC in its statement Tuesday rejected because the area was "inhospitable" and
   Negotiations for a swap deal have stalled for months over FARC's demand of
a huge demilitarized zone for the talks, which Uribe has repeatedly turned
   FARC hostages include two army corporals, Pablo Moncayo and Libio Martinez,
who on Friday will have been held for 10 years, the longest held hostages in
the world, according to a Colombian non-governmental organization.
   Separately, Colombian former president Ernesto Samper announced that he
would travel to Caracas to meet with Chavez in order to help facilitate the
hostage release.
   "I will go meet with President Chavez because I believe that in all of the
years that I have been pushing for a humanitarian agreement I had never seen
so much progress as in the last three months," Samper, president from
1994-1998, told Caracol television.

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